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Harry Wilson

How Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson is giving Jurgen Klopp plenty to think about

10:00 pm AEST 12/4/18
Harry Wilson
The Welsh winger has been impressive on loan at Hull City, scoring five times in seven starts

While Mo Salah was firing Liverpool into the semi-finals of the Champions League , 80 miles away another left-footed Reds goal machine was making sure it was a good night all round for the club.

The Pirelli Stadium, Burton is a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Etihad. It’s a ground that was built for Conference football, its capacity less than 7,000. For visitors, the most striking thing about the place is the smell of beer wafting across from the nearby breweries.

On Tuesday, though, there was something else to see. There was Harry Wilson, producing yet another eye-catching performance for Hull City. Liverpool’s young loan star is shining bright.

The 21-year-old needed just five minutes to open the scoring; the swept finish off his left foot having come inside from the right flank was straight out of the Salah playbook, too.

That’s five goals in seven Championship starts now for the young Welshman, the latest of which set Hull on the way to a 5-0 victory, their biggest away win of the season.

The Tigers were in a relegation fight when Wilson arrived at the back-end of January, but their form since then has been impressive. They have lost just one of the seven league games the loanee has started, winning their last two by four and five-goal margins. Wilson, playing with freedom and confidence, scored in both. 

"I was made up as much for Harry as I was for the first-team progressing in the Champions League,” says Neil Critchley, Liverpool’s U23 coach and a key influence on Wilson’s career.

"That move was the right thing at the right time for him. He's gone there and he's banging goals galore in, assisting, winning penalties, the lot. He went away with his country recently and scored on his 21st birthday, so the last few months he's been in a real rich vein of form.”

Critchley had spoken earlier in the season of how Wilson needed to make “the next step” in his development. After a prolific season for Liverpool at U23 level, and a first-team debut in the FA Cup at Plymouth last January, the question now was where Wilson could get exposure to senior football.

Liverpool were willing to loan him out last summer, but interest at that time came from League One, with MK Dons and Blackburn Rovers the clubs keenest. Wilson had struggled during a loan with Crewe Alexandra back in the 2015-16 season, and with Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo heading out to the Championship, it was mutually agreed that Wilson would stay put for the first half of the season.

By January, though, it was clear that a move was needed. The goals were still flowing with the U23s, but Premier League 2 football was no longer a challenge. When Hull came calling in January, Liverpool accepted.

What a fruitful decision it has proven, for all parties. Hull are now clear of danger, Wilson is getting the challenge and the exposure he needed - he's been keeping Kamil Grosicki, an experienced Polish international - out of the team of late, and Liverpool are eyeing his development closely. Hull would love to keep him, but the plan is to let Jurgen Klopp have a good look at him in pre-season before any further decision is made.

“If you keep scoring goals, you get noticed,” Critchley says. “We're talking about him now, aren't we? He's in a really good place at the moment, and hopefully he can carry it on.

"The Championship is extremely tough. It's a war of attrition, that league. It's Saturday-Tuesday every week, and you have to prove yourself every single game. You don't get a lot of rest.

"He's proven that he's more than capable of playing at that level. But again, it's only been a few months. Consistency is important, doing that over a longer period of time. He's had a good start, a fantastic start in fact, but he'll want to finish the season the way he is now and then come pre-season, I'm sure he'll be thinking of being in and around our squad for next season.”

It promises to be an interesting summer in terms of how Liverpool handle their raft of young loan players. Wilson, ostensibly, is competing with both Kent, who has been with Bristol City after a low-key stint in Germany with Freiburg, and Ojo, who could be about to help Fulham to promotion. Three extremely talented wide players, but will any of them be able to barge their way into Klopp’s plans?

"Goalscorers are very difficult to leave out of the team, or to take off the pitch,” Critchley says. “They can change games for you. Harry is a game-changer. 

"But you look at Ryan Kent last season. If we were having this conversation last season, six months ago, 12 months ago, maybe it's a different one. That's youth development, it's very much up and down. Harry is on the up, but that can change.

"He's got to keep going. If you want to play for Liverpool, you've got to be consistent, you've got to do it game in and game out. The race is on for them to try and be a permanent fixture in our squad, and to put pressure on the players in front of them.

“Tough ask, but that's why they're at Liverpool.”