Conor Bradley’s stratospheric rise ready to gather pace in Wembley final

<span>Conor Bradley celebrates scoring against Chelsea in the Premier League.</span><span>Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images</span>
Conor Bradley celebrates scoring against Chelsea in the Premier League.Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

Conor Bradley is four Premier League games into his Liverpool career but Sunday’s Carabao Cup final opponents Chelsea already know that the right-back is a gamechanger. In their league encounter last month, the Northern Ireland international created two goals and scored another in a thumping victory to announce his arrival on the scene.

Ben Chilwell, his opposite number on the night, lasted 45 torrid minutes as he learned very quickly that despite Bradley’s lack of experience, he is a fearless talent. Whenever Liverpool went forward the 20-year-old seemed to have most of the flank to himself and he was not afraid to use it to his advantage, surging ahead with the ball at his feet to create opportunities.

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For most, being a young right-back in the Liverpool academy must feel like a forlorn method of chasing dreams. Bradley will have seen his path to the first team not necessarily blocked, but with a huge Trent Alexander-Arnold-shaped hurdle for him to navigate. Those with less talent or self-confidence may not have embraced the challenge of competing with the England international but Bradley has done that and more. His form could accelerate a permanent move into midfield for Alexander-Arnold, an exciting prospect for Liverpool.

“Conor has shown he can do it at the highest level,” Andy Robertson says. “He’s got a lot of hype around him but now it’s shown he can do it every single week. Before every game he plays and during training, that’s what I say to him – it’s all good being the new kid on the block and things like that, but with that comes expectation. He’s dealt with that unbelievably well.”

It is two and a half years since his Liverpool debut in a League Cup win over Norwich but Bradley has used the time well to mature into an integral part of the squad. He enjoyed an impressive season on loan at League One Bolton, helping them reach the playoffs and win the EFL Trophy in front of 80,000 people, making him no stranger to Wembley. He won the affection of colleagues and supporters, picking up the players’ player of the year and the fan equivalent at the club’s award ceremony.

Thanks to Bradley’s impressive form in the third tier, there were a collection of clubs looking to offer him further education but Klopp was keen to keep him. His faith was repaid during pre-season when Bradley showed he was ready for the step up but injury meant he was not available until late November. A handful of cup appearances were more than enough to convince Klopp that Bradley was ready for the Premier League – he made his debut against Bournemouth last month and he has not looked back. “He is a hard worker, he is a good lad, he listens to all the other lads and takes everything in his stride,” Robertson says. “He is the perfect young player, always in the gym working hard and working hard on the training ground. I believe he will have an unbelievable career, but from my experience it’s about getting consistency.”

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The mention of Bradley is enough to bring a grin to Klopp’s face because he is finally being allowed to prosper in a team challenging for four trophies. Often before talk of the player’s phenomenal ability, the first thing discussed is his attitude, something that drives his desire for self-improvement. Since Bradley slotted in on the right-hand side of defence, the Liverpool groundsman has needed to work a little bit harder to keep the grass green on the flanks because the full-back is constantly motoring up and down.

Hailing from Castlederg, the Northern Ireland international is part of a close-knit family. They were regulars at Bolton games last season and made the trip to Wembley to see him lift the EFL Trophy. Sadly, amid his breakthrough period at Liverpool, Bradley’s father died at the beginning of the month. He was allowed time away as he mourned and it does him great credit that he has managed to maintain focus throughout what must be an incredibly difficult period of a young man’s life.

Injuries to colleagues offered Bradley his opportunity in the first team but he has ensured Liverpool have not missed their key men, helping them to eight victories and one draw in his past nine matches. “With what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, all of a sudden he has become one of the more experienced lads in the squad. That’s how quickly it can change,” Robertson says.

Considering Klopp announced that his impending departure is based around a lack of energy, Bradley is powering up the German’s smile and football enthusiasm when given the chance. It is not solely the manager who needs a reboot with Liverpool’s injury problems and hectic schedule. Bradley’s relentless nature will be a boost to his more senior colleagues. It may be coincidence but Liverpool have scored four goals in every Premier League game he has appeared in.

It is 11 months since Bradley was last at Wembley and plenty has changed for the defender but he is still the same fearless full-back who will not be fazed by the occasion. He has been here before and will be back again.