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Tuesday 6 December 2016

'Ben can go to the very top'

Ben Woodburn broke Michael Owen's record to become Liverpool's youngest-ever goalscorer
Ben Woodburn broke Michael Owen's record to become Liverpool's youngest-ever goalscorer

Liverpool's new youngest goalscorer Ben Woodburn can go on to be a great player, according to team-mate Sadio Mane.

The academy graduate, who at the age of 17 years and 45 days beat Michael Owen's record by 98 days, was just 14 minutes into his senior career when he blasted home on front of the Kop.

His goal secured a 2-0 EFL Cup victory over Leeds and, while Liverpool moved into their fourth League Cup semi-final in the last six years, the focus was on the future and not the past.

"I want to congratulate him. He is a very good player and has a very good future," Mane said.

"I hope he will keep going and working hard and I think he will be a great player.

"Everyone was happy for him to score his first goal, especially in a big atmosphere at Anfield."

Woodburn, who made his first-team debut with a cameo lasting barely a minute against Sunderland on Saturday, came off the bench to have an impact at Anfield on Wednesday night.

However, in a team of eight changes it was right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, an 18-year-old academy contemporary of Woodburn, and 19-year-old Ovie Ejaria, making his fourth first-team appearance, who were the stand-out players in the starting line-up.

Manager Jurgen Klopp has opened up a pathway to the first team from the academy and engendered an atmosphere were those teenagers can flourish amid established Premier League stars.

Mane believes the youngsters have added an extra dimension to the dressing room.

"We have a great team this season and all the young players are playing confidently and are doing well and the game will become easier for them," he added.

"I think they will help the team to move up."

Klopp has put his faith in a number of youngsters during his 14 months in charge and has been rewarded with several impressive performances, but he is keen to play down the growing expectation on them.

"We don't even talk any more about Ovie because he's 19!" he said.

"All the young boys did very well - 17, 18, 19, they did well in a very important game."

Woodburn's emergence as an option to provide occasional cover up front is timely after the Reds lost Philippe Coutinho for at least five weeks with ankle ligament damage, with Daniel Sturridge currently sidelined by a calf problem.

Striker Danny Ings has already been ruled out for the remainder of the season, but at least Klopp knows he has back-up to call on should he need it, as he looks to keep Liverpool's title challenge on track during a busy December, with a two-legged League Cup semi-final and FA Cup involvement to come in January.

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