Sepp van den Berg could be forgiven for having mixed feelings when he looks back on his 2020/21 campaign.

Of Liverpool ’s quartet of young centre-backs with senior game-time to their names, he was the only one not to feature for Jurgen Klopp ’s side over the course of the season.

As injury struck down Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, the young Dutchman watched on from the sidelines as the Reds boss turned to Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson were played out of position and Billy Koumetio was handed a first-team debut.

Despite being younger than both Phillips and Williams, the 19-year-old arguably boasts the most senior experience. Afterall, he recorded 23 appearances during his time at PEC Zwolle in the Eredivisie compared to the former’s promotion-winning campaign with VfB Stuttgart in 2. Bundesliga and the latter’s season in the National League North with Kidderminster Harriers.

Yet one unused substitute appearance against Lincoln City was his sole contribution to the Liverpool cause over the course of the season, despite the Reds’ repeated injury issues at the heart of defence.

With opportunities at Anfield limited, the 19-year-old signed for Preston North End on loan in January as part of the deal that took Ben Davies the other way, and can consider his stint at Deepdale a success with 16 appearances to his name.

And while the Dutchman admits he has wondered if Klopp would have turned to him during the second half of the season had he remained on Merseyside, he has no regrets about his decision to leave on loan.

“Yeah, of course,” he replies when asked if he was disappointed to be overlooked in an exclusive interview with the ECHO. “When you look at it, I had a chance maybe if I was at Liverpool but it has been really good for me here (at Preston).

“The guys who came in have done well and I really like it here. It was the best option for me to go on loan.

“When I saw everything unfold, it was really tough to see. Those injuries, you don’t want any player to have them. For the club and the team, you saw that they struggled. The whole season has been tough for Liverpool but they have managed it well.

“The players who came in, the young players, Phillips and Rhys, they have been doing really well. At the end, if big players drop out then those guys have to step up. They have done really well.

“It’s tough. If you see all the statistics about all the centre-back duos Liverpool have had this season, it’s crazy how many players have played together there.

“It’s been hard for Liverpool but it has given some great opportunities to some other players as well. They have done well and as a Liverpool supporter, you have to enjoy that as well when young players come in and do well.

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“There have been pros and cons to it but it has been a tough season for Liverpool for sure.”

Van den Berg made four appearances for Liverpool last season as they stormed to the Premier League title, though two were under then Under-23s boss Neil Critchley against Aston Villa and Shrewsbury Town with the young Dutchman yet to make his top-flight debut for the club.

Also a member of the Reds squad to win the FIFA Club World Cup, the defender admits it has been a steep learning curve for him since trading the Eredivisie for Liverpool.

Yet that first taste of English football after signing from PEC Zwolle fuelled his desire for further game-time and prompted his desire to leave on loan.

And the Dutchman reveals it was always the Reds’ intention to send him out on loan with a summer move failing to materialise, perhaps explaining why Klopp resisted turning to the teenager when his defensive numbers were limited.

“I already wanted to go on loan last summer but it didn’t work out,” he said. “But the plan was always for me to go on loan.

“It happened in the January window and it was already all set for me to go on loan and I’m just really happy it worked out in January.

“When I joined (Liverpool), it was a big, big step for me! I came from Holland when I was only 17. It was a really big step but I’ve really enjoyed every moment I’ve been here.

“It’s almost two years since I joined Liverpool. The games I’ve been able to play. Being able to part of the incredible team Liverpool is and experience being part of the World Cup squad it Qatar. It’s been a crazy experience for me and I have really enjoyed every second of it so far.”

After returning from his loan spell with Preston, a decision is yet to be made regarding Van den Berg's short term future at Liverpool.

Afterall, Klopp is expected to sign a centre-back when the transfer window reopens and while Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip all set to return from injury during the summer months, it remains to be seen how long it will take them to be ready for senior action.

Meanwhile, EURO 2020, the Copa America and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ensure the Reds boss won’t have a full squad at his disposal when players report back to the AXA Training Centre for pre-season training.

But in the mean-time the young Dutchman is looking forward to challenging himself against the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane and learn from playing alongside Van Dijk in training once again.

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“When I came, even when I think about it now, it’s incredible,” he recalls. “When you’re training 11 v 11, all of a sudden you go from Holland to having the best attacking front players in the world against you in training.

“It was a big step for me. It was really good to experience that. For any young player to be able to be on the same pitch as players like that is really good for your development.

“I really liked it and can’t wait to play against them again in training.

“They (Salah, Firmino and Mane) are the obvious names. Lallana was unbelievable when he was still at Liverpool. You couldn’t get the ball off him. Even Divock Origi. He’s so quick, it’s unbelievable.”

He continued: “He (Van Dijk) is someone who, as a young player, you look up to. He’s an incredible defender. It’s a really great environment to be in, to be able to train with him, to watch him play or to even watch him train.

“It’s been good. In training, of course he’s Dutch so you can speak Dutch with him. He’s nice, really nice. When I came we had Ki-Jana Hoever as well. We had some Dutch players who I could talk to but, to be fair, everyone at Liverpool really helped me when I came.

“If you can speak your own language to someone, it ultimately helps. They helped me when I came but they’re all nice players and helped me when I came. It’s been really, really enjoyable as well.

“Every player there is different class. But you have to be to win the Champions League and Premier League. They won everything in the last two years and every player in the team is incredible.

“Hopefully whenever I go back to Liverpool, I can get into the team and achieve the same as they have done the last few years.”

Having had to be patient to get his move on loan, Van den Berg knows he will also have to bide his time if he is to force his way into the Liverpool first team one day.

But the 19-year-old also knows time is on his side and whether he’s playing regularly out on loan or training against Salah and alongside Van Dijk next season, he is determined to make the most of every experience as he looks to catch Klopp’s eye and forge a career at Anfield.

"It’s been a hard season for Liverpool but hopefully when I go back to Liverpool, I’ll get a chance as well and be able to play then," he said.

"I’m still 19 so there is really no rush for me. My dream is to be able to play for Liverpool.

"I signed for five years when I came. I will have three years left in the summer. There is plenty of time for me.

"It’s my dream to play for Liverpool. That is all I think about in the long term, there is nothing else I think about."