Liverpool may reward Bobby Clark’s mature substitute cameos of late with just his second senior start for the club this weekend. The Reds host Championship play-off hopefuls Norwich City at Anfield in the fourth round of the FA Cup just days after reaching the Carabao Cup final. Jurgen Klopp is expected to use the visit of the Canaries to rotate and offer rest to some of his players.
The match presents a possible opportunity to give Andy Robertson, Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold minutes as they return from injury. But they are most likely to come on from the bench. Joe Gomez – the only player to play every possible minute for Liverpool in 2024 – and Virgil van Dijk, Alexis Mac Allister, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez are among those who could be rested after playing on Sunday and Wednesday.
Caoimhin Kelleher, Conor Bradley, Jarell Quansah, Ryan Gravenberch and Cody Gakpo may keep their places in the starting line-up from the midweek draw at Fulham. They could be joined by Owen Beck, Ibrahima Konate, Curtis Jones, Diogo Jota, Kaide Gordon and Clark, given they all started on the bench at Craven Cottage (bar Gordon, who was not in the squad).
Clark has made three first-team appearances this season, to go with seven appearances for the under-21s (which have returned three goals and four assists). But so far his senior outings have only amounted to 28 minutes in total. That is less than he managed in two first-team matches in the whole of last season, because he played 66 minutes of a League Cup third-round match at home to Derby County.
Yet Klopp showed his faith in Clark remains on Wednesday night. Against Fulham, he threw the teenager on when the Cottagers had momentum after scoring and were chasing an aggregate equaliser. “It’s so nice to bring Bobby Clark on. Everyone can see he is ready,” Klopp said on Thursday.
It underlines once again the German’s commitment to giving minutes to young players, which he spelt out quite clearly back in October after a 5-1 Europa League win over Toulouse. That night, Luke Chambers started and Calum Scanlon and James McConnell got minutes from the bench.
Klopp explained: “We really thought the boys need that now, to get that feeling. It’s one thing if I tell them how much I like them, what I see in them – from time to time, we have to show it. In good moments you can give the boys opportunity. A couple are not even available. Ben Doak would have for sure had minutes tonight, Bobby Clark who is coming back from injury. We have a lot of good boys, we really trust them and we build on that.”
And Norwich is the chance for Clark to “get that feeling” again. Klopp will want to rotate his midfield but has no Wataru Endo, Thiago Alcantara or Stefan Bajcetic while Szoboszlai and Alexander-Arnold are only just back from injury. Liverpool will want to be cautious with the pair given they face Chelsea and Arsenal in the next seven days after this.
Jones could replace Mac Allister as the No. 6 with Gravenberch and Clark then ahead of him. Clark, 18, only joined the Reds from Newcastle in August 2021 for a fee of around £1.5million. The son of former Newcastle midfielder Lee, Bobby is a massive talent who Klopp is heavily invested in. He signed a new long-term contract in December.
The Liverpool manager is even understood to have blocked a potential loan exit for him back in the summer with League One Derby one of the clubs keen. That was because, after the club’s Europa League group stage draw, he envisaged plenty of minutes for the player. Injury however denied him game time in Europe and it is only since the FA Cup win at Arsenal earlier this month where he has really come back into contention.
Now, the England under-19 international should get another chance to demonstrate his potential. If he can do half as well as Quansah and Bradley, both 20, have done when stepping into the team of late then Liverpool will know they have yet another young player to count on not just in the long term, but right now.
Predicted Liverpool XI vs Norwich: Kelleher; Bradley, Konate, Quansah, Beck; Jones, Gravenberch, Clark; Gordon, Jota, Gakpo
Potential Liverpool bench vs Norwich: Alisson; Gomez, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson; McConnell, Szoboszlai, Elliott; Nunez, Diaz