Liverpool midfielder Kevin Stewart has handed Jurgen Klopp a timely boost on the eve of the Europa League last-16 first leg against Manchester United, returning to training ahead of schedule following an ankle ligament injury. Stewart picked up the blow in February after blocking a teammate's shot and was expected to miss much of the remainder of the campaign.
The 22-year-old was recalled from a season-long loan at Swindon Town in January in order to help cover for the Reds' injury problems, but impressed sufficiently to make five appearances this season, including a Premier league debut against Aston Villa. The former Tottenham Hotspur trainee was in line for a prominent role at the club, but injury stalled his progress.
Stewart's emergence was rewarded with a new contract at Liverpool and the ex-Crewe Alexandra, Cheltenham Town and Burton Albion loanee may get the opportunity to repay that faith between now and the end of the term, having returned to training. The youngster has made a rapid return to fitness and is ready to resume first-team duties.
"It's going really well," Stewart gleamed, according to the club's official website. "I didn't expect it to get better so quickly but I've been out on the pitch for about a week now doing some running and passing. So it's gone a lot quicker than expected."
Connor Randall, Joseph Maguire, Ryan Kent, Joao Teixeira, Sheyi Ojo,Pedro Chirivella, Cameron Brannagan and Stewart have all been handed their Liverpool debuts since Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers in October, with the German intent on using the club's academy rather than dipping into the transfer market. Stewart has thrived under his guidance and says the club is the ideal place for young players.
"I haven't known him for a long time but I think he made an instant impact on me the first time I met him," Stewart said of the Liverpool boss. "The game I played at Exeter, his pre-match talks and the way he dealt with players, I found it perfect for me. He tries to take the pressure off of you as younger players playing for the first team.
"He just reminded us that it's just a game, not putting too much pressure on ourselves. [He encouraged us to] go out there and express ourselves and if anything goes wrong he's happy to take responsibility for it. He got us in the mentality to go out there and just play as we normally do for an U21s game."