Wataru Endo’s impressive run with Liverpool is nearing its conclusion, at least temporarily. The midfielder, set to join his international teammates for the Asian Cup, faces disappointment as he departs Liverpool, especially after cementing his place in the starting XI.
In recent weeks, Endo’s outstanding performances for Liverpool have not gone unnoticed. His efforts have secured the trust of manager Jürgen Klopp, making him the first player under Klopp’s tenure to start five matches within a span of just 13 days.
During crucial games against formidable opponents like Manchester United and Arsenal, Endo showcased his prowess, bringing much-needed stability to Liverpool midfield. His contributions were pivotal, establishing him as one of the standout players for the Reds. However, Liverpool will now have to navigate their upcoming matches without his presence.
In January, Liverpool anticipate the return of several key players. Alexis Mac Allister is expected to be back, filling the void left by Endo in midfield. Similarly, Thiago Alcantara might also rejoin first team training.
With Mac Allister and Alcantara available, the midfield should have adequate coverage during Endo’s absence. Nonetheless, considering Endo might be out for up to nine matches—five in the Premier League and four in potential cup matches—it’s likely that some younger players will be handed chances.
This season, Liverpool’s academy graduates have consistently impressed when promoted to the senior squad. Jarell Quansah stands out among them, but Ben Doak, Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley, and Luke Chambers have all showcased their talents.
On another note, James McConnell, though less talked about, has had brief appearances for Liverpool’s senior side, accumulating about 20 minutes of playtime. Despite this limited exposure, he’s made both European and Premier League debuts, displaying glimpses of his potential. Notably, Jürgen Klopp has named him in the last four Premier League squads.
McConnell emerged as an unexpected inclusion in Liverpool’s inaugural pre-season tour last summer. At a mere 18 years old, he had already showcased his adaptability at the academy level. Yet, his specific role within the team remained undefined.
During the pre-season matches, Liverpool faced challenges due to a thin squad. This presented McConnell with opportunities, elevating him to the position of the team’s secondary holding midfielder. Consequently, he began making frequent brief appearances on the pitch.
Drawing parallels with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s successful transition to right-back, McConnell grasped his opportunity. He displayed a commendable level of comfort in his new role. Manager Klopp expressed immense admiration for McConnell, labeling him a ‘delightful player to observe’ in the defensive midfield position.
Throughout the pre-season campaign, McConnell accumulated a total playing time of 176 minutes. His defensive prowess was evident, as he successfully won six out of nine duels. Additionally, McConnell executed four interceptions and secured 12 recoveries. Impressively, he also completed 93 passes out of 101 attempted.
Mcconnell This Season
Over the current season, McConnell has consistently played in the number six position for the club’s U21 team. He has also taken on leadership responsibilities, serving as captain on several occasions, notably against a League One team in the EFL Trophy.
In this updated position, McConnell has emerged as a top performer for the U21s. Data from Wyscout for the Premier League 2 reveals his exceptional performance metrics. Specifically, McConnell boasts the highest average of interceptions per 90 minutes with 9.34. Additionally, he engages in the most defensive duels per 90 minutes, registering 19.53.
During a match against Crystal Palace, McConnell’s prowess was evident as he secured 17 duels, 11 interceptions, and 16 recoveries.
McConnell’s talents are not limited to his age group alone. He has showcased his skills for Liverpool’s U21 team in the EFL Trophy, contributing significantly to the team’s advancement beyond the group stages. In this competition, McConnell ranked second among midfielders for interceptions per 90 with 8.94. Moreover, he was among the top performers in through passes, tallying the third highest with 10.
Effective on the Ball
McConnell’s prowess is not limited to defense alone. In the Premier League 2, he stands out as one of the top players in passing, particularly towards the final third, averaging 10.19 passes per 90.
For Liverpool’s primary squad, McConnell showcased a commendable 90.7% pass completion rate this season, having attempted 107 passes over 206 minutes. His contributions include an average of 6.55 progressive passes per 90 and 2.18 passes directed into the penalty box.
During Liverpool’s pre-season matches, McConnell played a pivotal role, registering the second assist for two notable goals, one against Karlsruher and another against Darmstadt.
Increased January Role?
In the absence of Endo, there may be an increased role for McConnell. While Mac Allister has made a comeback, and Thiago might also return later in January, it’s unlikely that they will feature in all nine potential matches.
Following Bajcetic’s injury, McConnell seems to be the next option after Mac Allister and Thiago. Since Liverpool’s match against Crystal Palace on December 9th, McConnell has been part of every matchday squad. This suggests that he might be relied upon at some stage in January.
Should McConnell get the chance, he will be eager to make the most of it, much like Quansah did after Joël Matip’s injury.