What do Liverpool put in the water they give to their academy right-backs?
Trent Alexander-Arnold is the definition of a right-back wonderkid, but following him through the production line is 20-year-old Neco Williams, who is slowly starting to force his way into Jurgen Klopp’s thinking.
With Alexander-Arnold ruled out of the Euros through injury, this summer could be Williams’ chance to command the spotlight – one of the many reasons why 90min has selected the Welshman to be part of ‘Our 21’.
Here’s what you can expect from him this summer.
How Williams has performed this season
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Williams, whose first-team opportunities have obviously been limited by the presence of arguably the best young right-back on the planet ahead of him.
As with any young players, Williams had his moments of fragility. A poor showing in the Carabao Cup against Lincoln City sticks out, but he did expertly well to bounce back from that with a dominant showing in the Champions League against Ajax. On the biggest stage and with the spotlight on him more than ever, the youngster stood up to be counted.
Being compared directly to Alexander-Arnold hasn’t done him any favours, but Williams hasn’t shied away from the challenge. He managed 14 appearances in all competitions this season, winning more often than not and proving to be a reliable part of Jurgen Klopp’s side.
He’ll hope for more of an impact next season, but as far as 2020/21 goes, it was a solid effort from Williams.
As you might have guessed already, Williams is a right-back by trade, although recent outings for Wales have seen the youngster deployed as a left-sided wing-back.
A concern for Williams, who spent time as an attacker in his youth, is that his favoured position is already taken at Anfield, but the 20-year-old has confessed that he is prepared to learn a new position if needed, hinting at a possible swap to left-back.
“The trust the manager has in me now is because I am proving I am capable of playing in the team,” he says. “When he does need me to come into the team, I’m ready and I’ll put a shift in wherever he puts me. Playing in different positions is going to develop me as a player and make me a better player.”
Who does Williams play like?
You’ll never believe this, but Williams has been compared to Alexander-Arnold a lot in the past. I know, very surprising.
Williams believes one of his strongest assets is his crossing, while his experience as a winger means he is just as aggressive in the attacking third as his older teammate, although he may not have the overflowing creativity boasted by Alexander-Arnold.
Alexander-Arnold was only just figuring himself out when he turned 20 (you could argue that he still is), and Williams is following a similar trajectory.
What Williams’ teammates have said about him
“Neco is an amazing talent, he is someone who we all look to as being someone who can play for the club for a long amount of time and will have a bright future no matter what. I think he is on the right path, for sure. Mentally, he’s ahead of people his age, he’s getting the right experience in training; playing against the best players in the world can only improve you.”
– Trent Alexander-Arnold
“He had to stand in for a top-class player with Trent being unavailable through injury. I know the gaffer had a chat with Neco after the Brighton game and the outcome of that was that he went onto the pitch in a massive game and performed to the kind of level that we all know he is capable of. It was brilliant to see and as captain I am so proud.”
– Jordan Henderson
What Jurgen Klopp has said about Williams
““Neco played a super game tonight, so showed obviously that we can really have a second full-back coming, which helps us massively for the future.”
– Jurgen Klopp
FIFA 21 rating and potential
Nobody is pretending Williams is the finished article, and his rating of 67 on FIFA 21 Ultimate Team reflects that.
On Career Mode, Williams has earned himself a slight upgrade to 68, but he comes with a massive growth potential of 16, meaning you can turn the youngster into an 84 overall with the right management.
Football Manager rating
Williams starts off Football Manager 2021 with stats which are pretty par for the course.
He’s a young player who is capable of playing first-team football, but clearly has a bit of work to do before you’d be confident playing him across an entire 38-game season.
Unfortunately for Williams, FM simulations don’t often give him a lot of chances. You know, ‘cos of the whole Alexander-Arnold situation.
He usually gets stuck behind his fellow youngster in the pecking order and sold on for pennies once everyone gets tired of his lack of minutes.
Here are Williams’ stats after he gets crippled by years of inactivity…but I wouldn’t read anything into them.
What boots Williams will wear at Euro 2020
PUMA have been Williams’ brand of choice this season, with the right-back usually preferring the Future Z 1.1s. Yellow and black has been his most common colourway, but the white and red model has been on show recently.
He’s been spotted in the Ultra 1.1s this season as well, but expect to see Williams stick to the Future Z this summer.
How involved Williams will be at Euro 2020
For the first time in so long, Williams is actually going to be significantly involved in a football team, but he’s still unlikely to see consistent minutes in his favoured position.
Ryan Giggs, and now Robert Page, often prefers handing the right-back spot to Swansea City’s Connor Roberts, but Williams is so good that he commands minutes elsewhere and has been shining as a left wing-back in the build-up to the tournament.
Expect him to divide his time between the two flanks, but all we care about is that Williams is finally going to get the consistent minutes he deserves this summer.