Despite being without every single senior member of the first-team squad, Liverpool were still able to beat Shrewsbury on Tuesday night at Anfield in their fourth-round FA Cup replay.
The Reds only won 1-0 in the end, but the scoreline does not illustrate just how dominant they were. Their opponents managed just 30% possession and could not even muster a single shot on target as the European champions’ U23s got the job done in the absence of both the older pros and manager Jurgen Klopp.
In front of a packed house, many starlets impressed, and Neco Williams was one of those who did his future hopes no harm. The Wales U19 international took up a spot usually occupied by Trent Alexander-Arnold, arguably the best in the world, but he didn’t look out of place.
From a defensive point of view, he didn’t embarrass himself, winning six out of 12 ground duels and three out of seven in the air. He also managed one clearance and two tackles. It was going forward where he particularly stood out, though. All in all, he had five shots, completed one of the two dribbles he attempted and won three fouls, whilst Ro-Shaun Williams turned into his own net from the teenager’s dangerous cross-field pass.
It was a fantastic display from the youngster, but it perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Playing for the Reds, he is used to facing some of the best players on the planet – the day before each game, the starting XI will play another XI in training, meaning that Williams usually has Sadio Mane opposite him. Facing one of the world’s best wingers on a weekly basis can only be good for his development.
His showing is also likely to be good news for Klopp in the long run. As it stands, the 52-year-old does not have too many options at right-back. Alexander-Arnold, of course, is a star and one of the team’s most creative force as his 10 Premier League assists show, but beyond him there is a lack of depth. Joe Gomez has been used there in his absence, but the eight clean sheets in nine league matches at centre-back alongside Virgil van Dijk indicates that he is far more comfortable there. Other than that, it would likely be utility man James Milner.
Now, though, Klopp has Williams at his disposal. In the summer, Liverpool may look to boost their squad and add more depth – that, though, will cost money. Even a back-up option can be expensive – just look at Joao Cancelo, for example. The Portugal international has started just seven Premier League matches this term, but cost Manchester City £27.5m plus Danilo – a full-back who himself cost £26.5m and played just 34 times in the top flight in two seasons at the Etihad.
However, the youngster who once turned down Manchester United can fill up that back-up option, saving his club a potential pretty penny. Michael Edwards has done a fantastic job since joining Liverpool in 2016. During his stay at the club, they have a net transfer spend of just £74.41m – rather astounding for a side that is now 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League. That has been possible due to some astute business, such as signing Mohamed Salah and Mane – two players who are now worth £135m each according to Transfermarkt – for under £40m. With Williams, he will have no need to go out and bring in a new recruit.
Klopp was criticised for his actions by giving himself and his players the game off, but it has ended up paying dividends in both the short and, potentially, long-term.