Opinion: It’s make or break time for Harry Wilson at Liverpool – but he deserves his chance

It is often spoken about how Premier League 2, the league within which Liverpool's under-23 side, under the guidance of manager Neil Critchley, finished second in last season, is less than perfect preparation for the rigours and intensity of first-team football.

Premier League 2 is often dismissed as being too easy, lacking any sort of resemblance to its older brother, the Premier League, which is the dream destination for all those who play in it.

Perhaps the above is true – but Harry Wilson was always the stand-out player when appearing at Liverpool's Kirkby Academy, at Prenton Park (the home of Tranmere Rovers, where some under-23s matches are played), or at Anfield, when the shadow team sporadically get a run-out.

For a long time now, he has looked a cut above the rest.

In January, he headed to Hull City on loan where he has earned plaudits for his performances, dragging them away from danger.

‘Go and prove you can do what you do at under-23 level in men’s football’ was Liverpool's message: that is exactly what he has done.

Making an impression

For Liverpool's under-23s, playing first off the right-hand side and more recently as more of a number 10, Wilson hit 10 goals in 12 Premier League 2 appearances in the first half of the season, before heading out on loan.

Under Nigel Adkins at Hull City, he got seven goals and four assists in 13 games (a goalscoring contribution every 91 minutes), winning the Player of the Month accolade for April in the process.

He was then named Liverpool's Academy Player of the Season upon his return at the club’s end of season awards at Anfield.

While Ben Woodburn was stuck at Melwood, training with Jurgen Klopp and his staff but not playing competitively, Wilson excelled in the Championship and will now reap the benefits.

Having made such an impact, Ryan Giggs called him up to the Wales squad, and he started the former Manchester United winger’s first game in charge. It was his first start for his country, on his 21st birthday, and he scored his first goal.

That finish against China was strikingly similar to many of the 44 that Mo Salah struck this season. Winning the ball back high up the field, he played a one-two with Gareth Bale before taking a touch inside onto his favoured left foot, and unleashing a curled effort into the top corner.

On that day in Wales, most of the focus was on Giggs’ first match in charge and Bale, Wilson’s childhood hero, who had scored a hat-trick that day to make himself his nation’s top goal scorer of all time.

At Liverpool's Academy, though, there would have been pride and joy at Wilson’s achievement.

This was the culmination of a long period of development, from joining the club at the under-9 level to the present.

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Pre-season promising

The next stage in his development, however, is the most crucial. In terms of playing for Liverpool's first team, he simply cannot do any more than he already has – if he doesn’t make it, what message does that send to other under-23 players?

Speaking exclusively to Goal’s Neil Jones last month, Wilson made it clear that he sees his future at Liverpool.

He said: “[Pre-season is] big for me. That was the frustration last season to be honest. I picked up an Achilles injury and it stopped me from expressing myself in pre-season.

“This year, I want to get on that tour, I want to get in the manager’s mind, train hard, train well, stay fit. If I do, then hopefully I’ll get my chance. If not, we’ll sit down and discuss our options.”

Having worked so hard to get himself into a position where a first team chance is a possibility, it would be a cruel blow for him to be denied again.

Wilson added: “I’d like to make myself that back-up player for them, or that replacement if they have a knock or whatever. It sounds like a big aim, but why not? I want to play for Liverpool in the Premier League on a regular basis, I will never deny that.”

Positioning himself as a backup player for the likes of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Salah is a realistic ambition. It is likely that another forward player will arrive this summer, with Christian Pulisic mooted and Nabil Fekir – seemingly imminent – capable of playing in the front three too, but Wilson should be right in the mix.

Clearly, it would be next to impossible to displace Salah, but that is not what is required. The Egyptian is not able to play every game, and as the Champions League final showed, he is not immune to injury. When Salah left the field in Kiev, there was no natural replacement.

Capable of playing a deeper role, too, Wilson’s versatility will create more possibilities for himself.

There is something of David Silva about the way he caresses the ball with his left foot, and he has the capabilities to slot into a midfield three.

Just as Silva has not been blessed with blistering pace, Wilson is not the quickest, but a combination of masterful vision and a wand of a left foot could make him perfectly suited to being the most attacking player in a midfield triumvirate in the centre of the pitch.

Liverpool need goalscorers from the centre of the pitch – Emre Can, who is on the verge of leaving the club on a free agent, was the top scoring midfielder with six goals after Philippe Coutinho, who left in January, with 12, while Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum only got four between them – and Wilson would provide that threat.

Add in the increasing unreliability of Adam Lallana, the player Wilson most resembles out of that list of midfield players for his dribbling ability and attacking guile, and the Welshman’s set-piece prowess, and it could be the perfect combination at the perfect time.

He cannot afford another injury to deny him his opportunity to impress again and needs some luck, just as every other emerging player does.

Liverpool have already lined up friendlies with Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City and Manchester United, as well as a game with Napoli in Dublin a week before the 2018/19 Premier League season starts, and it will be telling whether he gets a chance.

If not, his career at Liverpool could be over before it has fully begun.

The club clearly rate him highly having rejected Celtic’s advances last summer, with Brendan Rodgers, who knows him well from his time on Merseyside, keen on a permanent deal at the time.

It will be Jurgen Klopp's actions this summer, though, that will be the real indicator of whether Wilson has a future at the club or not.

He certainly deserves the opportunity to make a claim.