As we head into the new year, a number of players will be hoping to make their breakthrough in 2016. Roberto Firmino has much to prove after his £21 million transfer from Hoffenheim in the summer. A measly return of 1 goal and 4 assists in the first half of his debut season in England is disappointing, and he will be looking to replicate his scintillating Bundesliga form for Liverpool. Likewise, despite scoring 7 goals so far, Christian Benteke will also be aiming to silence his critics this year and prove he can fit in Jurgen Klopp’s system. Will Daniel Sturridge stay injury free long enough to reach world class status? The development of Jordon Ibe will be fascinating to watch, whilst Danny Ings and Joe Gomez will be looking to start where they left off before their season ending ACL injuries. However, 2016 is also a year where he can expect to see the emergence of some new talent from the academy, looking to stake a claim for a place in Klopp’s first team plans. Here, I take a look at three promising young talents to watch out for in 2016.
Ryan Kent (Age: 19, Position: winger/second striker, Nationality: English)
Kent spent the first half of this season playing on loan for Coventry in League One. In 10 starts, he managed one goal and one assist. Blessed with a terrific burst of pace, Kent is primarily a winger who can also play just off the main striker. His technical ability is impressive, as seen by his audacious double-nutmeg when playing for Liverpool versus Brisbane Roar during the pre-season tour, whilst his skills went viral when he pulled off a ‘hocus pocus’ for Coventry, nutmegging the helpless defender as he eased past. Such confidence is impressive for a player of his age. Having gained valuable experience with regular playing time for Coventry, as well as picking up 5 international caps at England U20 level, Kent impressed Jurgen Klopp when training at Melwood during the international break in November. Following a succession of injuries, Klopp’s first team squad has been left thin on numbers as we head into a congested January fixture schedule, and news broke this week that Klopp has decided to bring back Kent early from his loan spell with a view to including him in the first team. Such a decision is a glowing reflection of Klopp’s faith in Kent, and with the lack of natural wide players in the squad, he has a real chance to impress and make an immediate impact in the first team.
Sergi Canos (Age: 18, Position: winger/striker, Nationality: Spanish)
Spanish winger Sergi Canos joined Liverpool in 2013 from the famous La Masia Barcelona academy, and featured in every game of Liverpool’s UEFA Youth League campaign in 2014/15, scoring once. He is currently on loan at Brentford in the Championship, and recently extended his loan deal until the end of the 2015/16 season following a highly impressive first half of the season during which he scored 3 goals and registered 1 assist in just 5 starts for the club, also making a series of encouraging substitute performances. He has quickly become a fan favourite, and his decision to extend his loan spell was met with delight by Brentford fans. He recently put his name in the spotlight with a stunning solo goal in a recent win over Reading. Collecting the ball wide on the right, Canos cut in side, beating several defenders before lashing a powerful strike into the bottom corner, announcing his name to the wider Liverpool fan base. Canos will be looking to kick on in 2016, continuing to enhance his growing reputation and gaining experience at a good level. If he continues to impress, there is a chance that Canos could force his way into Klopp’s thinking ahead of the 2016/17 season. The talent is certainly there, and as he develops his physical strength, we could be seeing Canos pushing to break into the first team in the not too distant future. One to keep a keen eye on, for sure.
Joao Carlos Teixeira (Age: 22, Position: attacking midfielder, Nationality: Portuguese)
Here is name more well known to the majority of Liverpool fans, although many will be surprised to know that Teixeira is approaching his 23rd birthday this month. Teixeira is no longer such a young starlet any more, and 2016 is set to be a defining year for the Portuguese midfielder who is running out of time to break into the first team at Liverpool. Signed from Sporting CP in January 2012 for £830,000, Teixeira featured prominently for the Liverpool U20 and U21 sides, before a disappointing loan spell ended in him making just 2 appearances for Brentford in 2012/13. However, last season he excelled in the Championship, playing for Brighton and Hove Albion, where he made 28 starts, scoring 6 goals and making 4 assists before suffering a broken leg at the end of the season. Teixeira was named Liverpool’s Academy Player of the Year and Brighton’s Young Player of the Year. His only Premier League appearance to date saw him come on as a late substitute versus Fulham in February 2014, in which he provided the past from which Sturridge won a last minute winning penalty. This season, he has trained week in week out with the senior squad at Melwood, making several appearances on the bench but struggling to get game time thus far. He impressed in the 1-0 League Cup victory over Bournemouth, as his nonchalant back heel flick was cleared off the line and swept home by Nathaniel Clyne, with Teixeira unlucky not to score himself. A Portuguese U21 international, Teixeira is a gifted attacking midfielder in a similar mould to the likes of Lallana and Coutinho, who provide stiff competition preventing him from breaking into the starting team. Intelligent in possession and with an eye for a pass, Teixeira’s dribbling ability and vision are key attributes. It’s difficult to say why he hasn’t broken through just yet, as he is clearly a gifted player with considerable potential, but the fact he is still at the club aged 23 suggests there’s something worth pursuing. It may take an injury or two to open up a chance for Teixeira in the starting eleven. It would be a great shame to see him follow a similar path to the likes of Dani Pacheco and Suso in past years. He deserves a chance to make his belated breakthrough.