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Sheffield Wednesday may well surprise everyone in the New Year by attempting an ambitious coup to sign Liverpool’s highly-rated young Welsh international Ben Woodburn. Woodburn, 18, works very well down the left-hand side in a modern way. Being right-footed, he cuts inside at regular intervals to forge a direct path towards goal.
Currently, and similarly to last season, Sheffield Wed relies plenty on wide man Adam Reach, but he clearly has limitations. Staying very wide, Reach’s style of play is more old-fashioned and can often leave his team outnumbered in the middle when moves break down, with the team eventually becoming vulnerable to counter-attacks.
This is one of the reasons the old style 4-4-2 slowly went out of fashion; when a wide ball from Reach does not reach its target, the opposition can come out easily and spread the play quickly. In Woodburn’s case, the player runs inside and even if he loses the ball, he is then more central and can contribute better to winning the ball back.
That’s the tactical side of it, but this is also one of those mutually fulfilling transfers, even if it’s a temporary one. The Owls need that extra bit of quality and a slightly different style, of course, but Woodburn himself really needs first-team football now.
True, he can play important games for Wales but they are few and far between, and so having been given a go in the first-team last season and with him even scoring at Anfield, things have now slowed down and that’s not a good indicator for the youngster.
Aside from 44 minutes in the EFL Cup, Woodburn has been limited to 4 under-23 appearances and 5 more in the UEFA Youth League, which, while offering a chance to show off his skills, give him nothing in the way of proper first-team experience.
True, he trains with Liverpool’s big guns such as Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho and he’ll learn from them a lot. But there is nothing like the fitness levels needed for playing 90 minutes in meaningful games, and so it seems like a move is the need of the hour.
Sheffield Wed, given that they do have Reach, can offer Liverpool a good deal in terms of giving Woodburn some vital experience without burning him out; and so it may be something Jurgen Klopp and the board would be tempted with.
The player himself, I’m sure, would be happier playing in front of 30,000 people in the Championship than in reserve games for the Reds; so they may as well stick the phone call in. Woodburn is on the fringes at Liverpool at the moment and will get into their side in the coming years – provided his progress is right.