News'I'm learning a lot from being around senior players'
James McConnell is relishing any chance he gets to learn from the senior players at Liverpool.
The Academy midfielder has frequently been in and around Jürgen Klopp’s squad since pre-season, when he featured in all five of the Reds’ friendlies.
McConnell, who joined the club as an U15 player, was deployed in a deeper role in the centre of the park and earned plaudits from the manager for his displays.
He has since been named on the bench for four games this term by Klopp, and achieved his debut as a substitute last week in the Europa League win over Toulouse.
“It was a great experience,” he told the official matchday programme of linking up with the seniors during the summer.
“I felt it was a big opportunity, especially as it was one with a challenge as I was playing in a position that I hadn’t played in for a while, but I thought I did well and hopefully it set me up for further opportunities in the season.
“I was preparing for pre-season with the U21s so anything with the first team was a bonus and to play in all five games and to get a half in most of those matches was a big bonus. I didn’t expect that at all.
“You learn a lot from being around the senior players. You see all the work that they put in and how they react after wins or losses, keeping level-headed and how professional they are. I think it really helps you mature quickly and get ready to step into the senior game.
“There’s also loads of things you can learn from them individually. [Alexis] Mac Allister is a World Cup winner, [Dominik] Szoboszlai’s a top, top player. You can only learn from people like them and [Wataru] Endo, Curtis [Jones], Ryan [Gravenberch] and Harvey [Elliott].
“They also give me little tips. For instance, Harvey was helping me when I was a bit unaware of some of the positional stuff.”
At U21 level, McConnell has made nine appearances so far this season and was part of the team that gained Liverpool’s maiden win in the EFL Trophy with a 3-0 success at Morecambe in September.
“Of course it’s not senior level [in Premier League 2] but it’s still a really good level,” said the 19-year-old.
“When we won 4-2 at Crystal Palace at the start of [October], they had four or five players that have played in their first team quite regularly so it’s still a very good level to learn, especially for me in this new position.
“Everything’s about winning still. We all love to win and Barry [Lewtas] loves to win so it does help get that winning mentality as well, which is really important for the next step.
“We’re all fully up for the challenge [in the EFL Trophy]. At Morecambe we knew we had to battle physically but we’d probably have the better of it technically if we played our game.
“We were under some pressure in the second half, but we deservedly won the game and it just showed that although they were older and more physical, we could still compete to that level.
“We were competitive in the game at Blackpool as well and it gives us a big boost going into the game at Barrow [on November 7]. We really believe we can qualify so that’s a big aim.”
Chances with the seniors also bring about a designated squad number, of course.
And while there is no intriguing reason behind McConnell wearing No.53, he has found a way to use it in an aspirational manner.
He said: “I’d love to say I have a story about it but it was just the number that was given to me!
“I quite like it, though, because five plus three is eight, which is a good number, especially at this club. I’m embracing it and we’ll see if I can get it any lower in the future.”