Liverpool will consider recalling Ben Woodburn from his loan spell at Sheffield United in January, Goal understands.
The Wales international moved to the Championship club on a season-long deal in August, but has so far been unable to nail down a regular place in Chris Wilder’s side.
Indeed, since being substituted at half-time of the Blades’ win over Norwich City on August 18, Woodburn has seen just 28 minutes of senior football. The 19-year-old was not even on the bench for their last game, a 0-0 derby draw with Sheffield Wednesday.
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Liverpool are aware of Woodburn’s frustrations, and recently brought him back to play for their Under-23 team in a Premier League 2 clash with Derby County – his only competitive start in the last three months.
Sheffield United, for their part, have had no complaints with the teenager’s work rate or attitude, and with Wilder’s men currently sitting fourth in the Championship table, there is an understanding at Anfield as to why Woodburn has not been featuring regularly.
Ironically, the man keeping him out of the team, Mark Duffy, is a lifelong Liverpool supporter who was released by the club as a 16-year-old and has rebuilt his career through non-League and lower league football. Duffy, now 33, contemplated quitting the game following his departure from Anfield, but worked his way up through spells with non-League clubs Vauxhall Motors, Prescot Cables and Southport before getting his Football League chance with Morecambe.
With around six weeks until the transfer window re-opens, Goal has learned that Liverpool do have the option to recall Woodburn in January, though formal discussions are yet to take place between the two clubs.
Liverpool had a similar situation last year with Ryan Kent, who spent the first half of the season with Freiburg in Germany but was brought back having failed to break into the Bundesliga outfit’s first team. Kent was re-loaned to Bristol City in the Championship, and is now a key member of Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, playing some of the best football of his young career.
Next week, it will be two years since Woodburn became the youngest goalscorer in Liverpool's history, netting at Anfield in a League Cup win over Leeds United. He was aged just 17 years and 45 days.
He has since won eight senior caps for Wales, and was part of Ryan Giggs' squad for their games with Denmark and Albania during this international break. Speaking last month, Giggs discussed Woodburn's struggles at Bramall Lane.
"Sometimes it works out on loan, sometimes it doesn't - but this could be a good thing," he said.
"When you go through difficult times, which he is at the moment, and you come through it, sometimes you are a better player and a better person.
"The quality is definitely there and it's up to Ben to make the most of that. It's only him that can do that."
Woodburn, though highly rated by Jurgen Klopp and his staff, made just two senior appearances for Liverpool last season, totalling 52 minutes.
Liverpool were inundated with enquiries in the summer, with Aston Villa and Norwich especially keen. Sheffield United, though, were deemed the best fit in terms of style and manager, and there is disappointment at Anfield that, so far at least, the move has not worked out. There is also an acceptance that an injury or a dip in form for Duffy would give Woodburn the chance to step up to United's first team.
Elsewhere, the Reds have been encouraged by the progress of Harry Wilson, another Wales international, at Derby County. The 21-year-old has played 15 times for Frank Lampard’s side so far, scoring four times. Ostensibly a wide attacker, he has also displayed his versatility by playing as part of a midfield three of late.
Wilson impressed for Liverpool during pre-season and is another who has made inroads into the Wales squad over the last 12 months. Indeed, he may also offer hope for countryman Woodburn, having recovered from a disappointing loan spell of his own, at Crewe Alexandra, as a teenager.
Then, Wilson returned to Liverpool early after failing to secure a regular place in a struggling League One side. He went on to shine at Under-21 and Under-23 level for Liverpool, and has now proven his quality during loans with first Hull City and now Derby.
In May, while at Hull, Wilson told Goal how his struggles at Crewe had given him valuable experience, which had enabled him to adapt quicker to adult football the second time around.
“It taught me a lot of valuable lessons,” he said. “It gave me experiences that I would never have got by playing Academy football.
“I learned that in senior football it’s about managing the game. People are playing for contracts and playing for careers, so when you’re 1-0 up or 2-0 up, you have to see the game out."
Another loanee, Marko Grujic, is set to return to action for Hertha Berlin this weekend. The Serbian midfielder has returned to training after overcoming an ankle injury, and is pushing to be part of Pal Dardai’s squad for the home game with Hoffenheim on Saturday.
Grujic recently told Goal that his ambition was to return to Liverpool next summer and stake a claim for a first-team place. The 22-year-old has made four appearances for Hertha in the Bundesliga so far and is eager to make up for lost time in the German capital.