HULL, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Kenny Dalglish, manager of Liverpool looks on from the bench during the Pre Season Friendly match between Hull City and Liverpool at KC Stadium on July 23, 2011 in Hull, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Despite purchasing several new players (Doni, Henderson, Downing, Adam) and struggling to offload so-called "dead wood" such as Cole, N'Gog, and Poulsen, the up-coming season will likely provide another opportunity for youth players to break into the first-team squad. Since being revamped under the leadership of Jose 'Pep' Segura, the Academy has started to churn out top quality players who have been able to quickly make the step up to the first team and make noticeable impacts.
Jay Spearing and Martin Kelly, though perhaps not quite 'youth' players last season, each made many strong appearances, with Spearing filling in for the injured Steven Gerrard, and Kelly for the injured Glen Johnson. When Kelly himself was injured, however, the true strength of our new youth academy was revealed. John Flanagan, along with Jack Robinson, was called up to the first team squad and put in 7 league appearances. Despite not being the highest rated youth prospect, Flanagan impressed many. Robinson, due to his younger age, was protected a bit more, and only played in 2 league games, but still managed to highly impress.
For next season, the question is who will be the next Spearing, Kelly, Flanagan, or Robinson. Most would consider Liverpool's best prospects to be Suso, Conor Coady, Raheem Sterling, and Andre Wisdom. It is no coincidence that the latter 3 all took part in pre-season with the first team (along with Flanagan and Robinson). Suso, meanwhile, is still with the Reserves, where he was last season, despite being only 16 when the year started. Turning 18 in November, he is even younger than 17 year old Jack Robinson, who turns 18 September 1st. Due to his young age and because Liverpool already have too many attacking midfielders, it is unlikely that Suso will break through to the first team this year,
Andre Wisdom is the second oldest of the four, having turned 18 in May. Compared to the other prospects in this group, he is more physically developed and also spent last season in the Reserves, captaining them in most games. Still, as a future CB, he plays the outfield position that requires the most experience and intelligence. Liverpool may be weak at CB, with Carragher getting older and slower, Agger being permanently injured (or so it seems), and even the normally reliable Skrtel suffering a calf injury, but it seems at least one CB will be bought (likely to be Scott Dann or Gary Cahill). With the Greek also staying, it is unlikely that Liverpool will turn to Andre Wisdom unless they are truly desperate.
Conor Coady is the oldest of this group, and while he came up through the academy as a CB, he switched to a DM position last season, and played their for both the U18's and England U17's, captaining both groups at various points. DM is a position Liverpool are somewhat weak in, with Lucas being the only "true" DM. Both Spearing and Adam can play the position, but not nearly as well (as we have seen in pre-season friendlies). If Lucas were to suffer a long-term injury, it would be likely Coady would get first team experience, but even before that would happen I think Dalglish would turn to Adam and Spearing (or Gerrard). However, due to his ability to play CB, he may still get a position on the bench for some games.
That leaves us with the "wonderkid" Raheem Sterling. The youngest of this group, he won't turn 17 until December. However, he possesses incredible pace and great technical abilities. As a left winger (though he is right footed, and therefore prefers to cut inside when he plays), he plays a position that Liverpool have been weak in for many years (but with the purchase of Downing, have stability in). Also unlike the others, he hasn't played any games in the Reserves, only the U18's. Still, his natural ability is so great that it is hard to ignore him when he plays. The team will try to protect him, both from injury and hype, but they can only go so long without unleashing him on the rest of the league. He may not see as many games as Coady or Wisdom, but I think that Raheem Sterling will definitely make the biggest impact for Liverpool this season.