Liverpool FC: 5 Anfield Youngsters to Watch in 2012
The Liverpool Centre of Excellence is one of the strongest footballing academies in the world, with names like Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen having graduated from it.
Even today, the prolific performance of the academy, which has since 1998 been located in a state-of-the-art facility in Kirkby, Northern Liverpool, is great. John Flanagan, Martin Kelly and Jack Robinson are just three more players who have broken through in recent seasons.
The future at Liverpool is bright, and 2012 is sure to be a good year for the club's youngsters. Here are five Reds youngsters who, while not all at Kirkby, are worth watching closely this year.
5. Kristoffer Peterson
Swedish attacker Kristoffer Peterson is perhaps the most underrated prospect in the Liverpool system.
The 17-year-old Peterson was brought in from lower-division Swedish side Sävedalens IF a year ago, and has since excelled in the Liverpool youth ranks.
While few fans have heard his name, Peterson is very much a bright talent and absolutely has a future with the club. He'll undoubtedly continue to ply his trade with the juniors this year, but he will continue to rise through the ranks and could join the first team as soon as 2013.
His speed and versatility as an attacker make him a great fit for the Liverpool system, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him make his debut with the club soon.
4. Nathan Eccleston
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When Liverpool brought in Stewart Downing this summer, it was with the hope that he would be able to bring flank speed to the lineup. He has failed to do that, and the problem of a lack of lateral pace is once again evident.
Liverpool need to add speed. It has been one of the most obviously missing qualities so far, and has been one of the major reasons for the team's struggles. Few players in the Reds system bring more speed and pace than academy graduate Nathan Eccleston.
Having spent time on loan at Rochdale this year, Nathan Eccleston is slated to begin the 2012-13 season in the Liverpool first team, and while he has already appeared in the Premier League, he should see his role increase.
Look for Eccleston to become a regular contributor off the bench, and by the end of the year, he might even have picked up a goal or two.
3. Conor Coady
Few players in the Liverpool system are as well-rounded as Conor Coady. Versatile, smart and composed, Coady has a very bright future at Anfield, whether it be in defense or in midfield (he can play both).
One of the more mature 18-year-olds you'll find, Coady is already being groomed to captain the team. The academy graduate has already skippered the England Under-17s and the Liverpool reserves, and is a pretty sure bet to one day lead the Liverpool side out onto the Anfield turf.
While Liverpool have a large group of central midfielders, none have excelled, and Coady will be given a chance to shine this year. By 2013, he will be an important first-team player. By 2014, he will be in the lineup full time.
2. Adam Morgan
Through 20 games of the 2011-12 season, Liverpool have scored 24 goals. That places them at 11th among their rivals. The need for a goal-scorer is greater than ever, and Adam Morgan sure could help fill that role.
Liverpool-born Adam Morgan is a highly-talented striker with a prolific strike rate who has made it his mission to tear his way through the youth ranks with goals. A natural scorer, the 17-year-old scored 21 goals to lead the runner-up Under-18s last season, offering a glimpse as to what the future might hold.
While Liverpool are sure to make signings to correct the goal-scoring crisis, it wouldn't at all be surprising to see Morgan make his Liverpool debut before the year is done.
Dalglish and Co. have high hopes for Morgan, and they won't want to rush him, but you can't help but think he might see time with the big boys this season.
1. Raheem Sterling
There are no brighter stars in the Kirkby academy than Raheem Sterling.
Having just recently turned 17, Sterling has already established himself as a mainstay in the Liverpool reserve team, wowing with his speed and flair.
The Jamaica-born winger is highly-rated in the Reds organization, and it seems only a matter of time before he makes his Premier League debut under Kenny Dalglish.
2012 will undoubtedly be a big year for Sterling. With Liverpool's thin group of wingers, he is sure to get his chance to make his mark in the first team soon. Sterling is a bright prospect for Liverpool who could begin to shine as soon as next season.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95