Liverpool Football Club over the years has seen many an attacking talent coming through the ranks. Some forged superb careers and some maybe didn’t live up to the typical hype that surrounds an exciting young prospect. The likes of Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, were born goal scorers at youth level and then transcended that into the professional game at the highest level. There are also the likes of Neil Mellor and Adam Morgan who promised so much after being prolific at youth level. Mellor’s injury-hit career forced him into retirement at age 29. Morgan, still 22, now turns out for Halifax Town in National League North. The gap from youth to men’s football is so huge, you never really know who will actually make the grade and who won’t. Many will fall by the wayside. At just 17-years of age, Nottingham-born Ben Woodburn is one of the latest crop of exciting youngsters coming through the ranks at Liverpool. After impressing in the first team’s 2016 pre-season campaign, with goals against Wigan Athletic and Fleetwood Town, Woodburn signed his first professional contract on October 15th, his 17th birthday. Just 45 days later, he scored a cup quarter-final goal, his first professional goal, against Leeds United in the EFL Cup, coming in from the left side after good work by Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum to rifle the ball into the roof of the net. With this goal, he became in the youngest goalscorer in Liverpool’s history, beating Michael Owen’s record by 98 days. In March of 2017, Woodburn was then called up for the senior Wales side, after representing them at youth level from under-15 to under-19. A signal of intent that Chris Coleman and the Welsh FA are looking towards the future, and hoping to build on a very impressive EURO 2016 campaign. He remained an unused substitute for Wales in their recent game against Republic of Ireland. A attacking player with fantastic off-the-ball movement, an eye for a pass, the ability to pick a pass in space and play in tight areas and good finishing. What might we see going forward from Ben Woodburn as he continues to be flourish in his early professional career?
Although Woodburn predominantly starts as a left-sided forward and occasionally centrally as the main striker, you’ll often find him popping up in any of the front four attacking positions and being effective doing so. His ability to create and take chances makes him a threat either when dropping deep in to a “number 10” position, drifting towards either flank or running behind the defence like a natural centre forward. In his appearances for Liverpool’s first team, he has mainly played on the left-hand side, either starting or coming on as a substitute.
Here is Woodburn in a 2016 pre-season friendly against Wigan Athletic, where you can see the movement from the inside-left pocket in behind the defence to score a one-on-one. Whilst their number 7 gets caught completely napping, Woodburn is already looking at Ryan Kent who collects the ball centrally and bursts into the space behind. His composure for a then 16-year old in front of goal is worth noting. Very impressive. It’s natural for a right-footed player coming in from the left to open his body up to finish in the bottom right-hand corner. As the keeper makes a movement to his left (Woodburn’s right), he pokes it the other side leaving the goalkeeper helpless. Great composure for a young forward.
As previously noted, Woodburn occasionally appears in a deeper central position. Here are a couple of examples of him popping up in that role:
In this under-23 game for Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur, Woodburn played in more of a “number 10” role behind Rhian Brewster, another highly rated prospect in the club’s ranks. Here he receives the ball in a lot of space in the centre circle, threading a perfectly weighted pass between two defenders to put Brewster through on goal. It would not be unusual to see a young player make the wrong decision in this instance. Some players may have looked at the space in front of them and carried the ball for a little longer than they should have, slowing down the attack. Woodburn knows that Brewster’s big strength as a striker is his pace and movement in behind the defence, so he sets him away early. Unfortunately, the chance goes begging. Also, he shows good technique with the wonderfully weighted pass.
Although no chance was created in this example, here shows the vision and technical ability of Woodburn, as well as the confidence to play that type of pass in a game where Liverpool were trailing 1-0. A situation where a 17-year old might go hiding. After collecting the ball in space, he confidently turns out and opens up the play to Roberto Firmino who controls the ball and subsequently wins a corner after a challenge by the Wolves defender.
Here in this match against Ipswich Town’s under-23 side, Woodburn shows his offensive versatility and his ability to produce a final ball. He makes a run on the right-hand side around the outside of the right-back, before delivering a peach of a cross into Brewster again who unfortunately heads over.
Youthful and inexperienced players are prone to making rash decisions in confined moments in or out of possession. To see high levels of composure from a player you would still describe as a “kid” in football terms, is always worth noting. First of all, his first touch here is not a great one, which encourage four of Ipswich’s players to close down the space. In the event that Woodburn would have chosen to shoot, it probably would have been blocked and the chance would be gone. Instead he shows the vision and calmness in a tight space on the edge of the penalty area to play the pass to Paulo Alves, who was left in space after four of the opposition are dragged towards Woodburn. Alves then finishes superbly.
Under Jürgen Klopp, you can expect to see Woodburn and many of the club’s young talents to flourish. He has gradually been bedded in, making occasional substitute appearances in the Premier League, as well as three starts in the FA Cup against lower-league opposition, whilst featuring regularly for the club’s under-23 setup. His potential is certainly high. He has shown enough glimpses of his technical ability, confidence and football intelligence to make people believe that he could be an interesting part of a Jürgen Klopp side in years to come.