'Unbelievable' Ki-Jana Hoever making a big impression at Liverpool already
The 16-year-old is looking a real prospect and is catching the eye in the same way a fellow Dutchman is at Anfield
Virgil van Dijk is not the only Dutch defender making a big impression at Liverpool, it seems.
While the £75 million ($96m) man continues to establish himself among the world’s elite, at the Reds’ Academy they’re already starting to talk about one of his countrymen.
Ki-Jana Hoever is just 16 years old, but already he’s making inroads with Liverpool’s Under-23 side. On Sunday, he made his first Premier League 2 appearance, helping Neil Critchley’s team to an eye-catching win over league leaders Everton at Goodison Park.
It was some performance from the teenager; assured, calm, classy in possession and solid in defence. Critchley, not a man prone to exaggeration, was suitably impressed.
“Unbelievable,” was his assessment. “Sixteen years old? Just… wow, really!”
Hoever had played for the Under-23s last Wednesday, as a team full of Under-18 players were hammered 7-0 at home to Villarreal in the Premier League International Cup.
A chastening experience, but the young full-back was retained by Critchley for Sunday’s game and repaid his manager’s faith. Against an experienced Everton side, containing the likes of Jonjoe Kenny, Kieran Dowell and Tyias Browning, Hoever’s performance at right wing-back stood out a mile. Liverpool ran out deserved 1-0 winners thanks to Rafael Camacho’s first-half goal.
“He tired towards the end, which was understandable considering he played in the week as well,” Critchley said.
“But I thought his calmness and assurance, his decision-making, his intelligence without the ball, it was terrific. Playing against a good player, I was very impressed with him indeed.”
Hoever, a Dutch youth international recruited from Ajax in the summer, has already become a key figure for Barry Lewtas’ Under-18s side, who have won 13 of their 16 games in all competitions this season. Now, he will be hoping to feature in Wednesday’s UEFA Youth League clash away to Paris Saint-Germain, from which Liverpool need just a point to secure their place in the last 16.
Sunday’s game will provide a confidence boost, especially given the shelling against Villarreal. Camacho, playing as a No.9, impressed, while there was the welcome sight of Ben Woodburn back in a red shirt. The Wales international remains on loan at Championship side Sheffield United but was allowed to return to Liverpool to take part in the game.
As Goal revealed earlier this month, Woodburn is expected to be recalled by the Reds in January having been unable to nail down a regular spot at Bramall Lane.
“I don’t know about that yet,” Critchley said. “That’s for the two clubs to decide.
“But if that happens then I’m always delighted to have good players, and he’s a good player. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.
“It was important for him to get 90 minutes here. I thought he was involved in a lot of our good play. It’s always nice to see Ben when he comes back, he’s just a good kid who mucks in with the lads, and he helps the players on the pitch. He gives good information, he talks, so we were delighted to see him and hopefully it did him good.
“He needs to play games and hopefully that 90 minutes benefits him.”
As for Camacho, another who has been moved up to Melwood by Klopp, Critchley was impressed by the Portugal youth international’s versatility.
“That’s the beauty of Rafa,” he said. “I spoke to him about when he was away with Portugal and he played left, he played as a nine.
“He’s really versatile, and he’s intelligent so you can play him in a number of positions. He becomes very useful for managers. We know we can trust him, and he’s a useful acquisition for any type of manager in any squad.”
Critchley added: “I’m very pleased for the boys. We’ve had an up and down week, to say the least! To go from what we experienced on Wednesday to what we experienced today, it was a roller-coaster of emotions. But I couldn’t be more pleased with the performance, I thought from the first whistle to the last, the boys were excellent.
“I always knew we could compete. I saw the performances at the beginning of the season and they were good, but not backed up by the results. I say we are unfortunate to be where we are in the league, we could have been much higher.
“There’s not a great difference between any of the teams in the league to be honest, it’s very tight, so when the players play like they did today then we’re capable of beating anyone. I just get frustrated with them sometimes that they don’t always play to that standard.”
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