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Tottenham 1, Liverpool 0: Falling out of the NextGen Series

liverpool lose loss nextgen
Tottenham 1 Coulthirst 71'
Liverpool 0

The NextGen Series was always more important for the experience it would provide to Liverpool's talented youngsters than for the chance to win a trophy, and so in the end one can only consider a run to the quarter-finals after a testing group stage to have been a success. Despite that, it will still be more than a touch disappointing for all involved to find themselves ousted by a Spurs side they thoroughly outplayed for long stretches, their chance to advance to the semi-finals as the the only remaining English side instead handed over to Tottenham because of wastefulness in front of goal.

Finishing has been a continuing problem for Liverpool's u19s throughout the NextGen Series, just as it often has been this season for the senior side, and on this day it was the normally composed Michael Ngoo who was the worst offender. His first chance came early in the first half, shortly after Liverpool keeper Tyrell Belford fumbled the ball on the goal line in a sequence that should have seen Spurs take the lead were it not for their own profligacy. Tottenham were gifted a free header off a corner, but instead of being punished for it, Belford's inability to cleanly deal with the resulting shot only seemed to wake Liverpool up after a sleepy start against a pressing Spurs side had made them seem slightly overmatched.

Instantly, Liverpool's players seemed to have found their legs and began to pass it around with confidence for the first time, shifting the match almost wholly into the Totenham end. Then, Michael Ngoo brought the ball down six yards out from goal, handling the cross well on his chest and turning towards goal as the ball dropped onto his favoured right foot. Unfortunately he then hesitated, taking a number of extra touches and ending up with the ball tangled in his feet as defenders swarmed when simply drilling it would have almost certainly led to a goal. He may not be the silkiest striker, and with his at times uncomfortably gangly movement comparisons to Peter Crouch seem inevitable, but regardless of that it was out of character for a prospect who's usually at least calm and composed in front of goal.

roddan spurs liverpool nextgen

Liverpool, though, were by then fully up for the game, and what followed was an attempt to stamp their philosophy on the most stereotypically English of all their matches in the NextGen Series—one with a great deal of heart and hustle, but often not a great deal of technical play. Liverpool's passing intent still shone through at times while Spurs looked to pressure anywhere on the pitch when they got the ball, but just as often the game would devolve into frantic chasing as players clattered into tackles and the ball bounced clumsily off shins and ankles.

As the half progressed, Liverpool settled further and began to cope better with Spurs' pressing. Sterling also began dominating play on the left, beating Pritchard and Barthram repeatedly and forcing Spurs to take up a slightly more conservative stance, all of which combined to shift play heavily towards Liverpool's youth as halftime approached. Unfortunately Liverpool once again couldn't convert their chances when they arrived, and after thirty minutes it was once again Ngoo who froze up in front of goal after he was sent clear by Raheem Sterling. This time around he only took one extra touch instead of five or six, but it was just enough to give the Spurs defender a chance to recover and close him down, forcing Ngoo to scuff a tame effort wide of the post.

A number of half-chances would fall to other players as the half wound down, but none of them could compare to Ngoo's two wasted opportunities, and with Sterling unable to pull off a wonder strike from the edge of the area after skipping past two defenders it meant Liverpool went into the break level but feeling as though they should have been up by at least two. Despite Spurs' strong start, the first half ended with Liverpool looking as good as they had at any point in the NextGen Series, and better finishing would have seen Borrell's kids comfortably ahead of what had arguably been the best side during the group stages.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, though, it would much the same story in the second, with Spurs once again pressing high up the pitch in the early going, pinning Liverpool back. And once again Liverpool would slowly push Tottenham back, largely through Raheem Sterling's efforts driving at the fullback, with the young star once again the best player on the pitch by a fair margin. When the chances came in the second, however, Liverpool once again failed to take them, and on 71 minutes it was time for another familiar story when Belford spilled a fairly tame shot to Shaquile Coulthirst and the Tottenham striker hammered it home decisively. Once again Liverpool had at least shaded the match, and they'd had a clear advantage in chances created, but having failed to take those chances they found themselves down and struggling for the equaliser.

sterling liverpool spurs nextgen

First Sterling was sent clear through on Miles, but the Tottenham keeper saved brilliantly to keep his side ahead. Then off the ensuing corner he stopped Silva from close range, and soon afterwards collected a header from substitute Adam Morgan after Sterling lobbed a cross to him at the far post. As in the first, the second would end with sustained Liverpool pressure and multiple chances to at least pull level, but just as had been the case in the first half and so often throughout the tournament there would be no goals to show for it.

Still, in the end and despite the disappointing loss, the experience is what matters, and from that point of view participating in the NextGen Series has to be considered a huge success. If any of these kids make it at the senior level—and a number of them seem certain to—then these matches against varied, top-level opposition will have played a role in it. On the other hand, the experience has also suggested that as good as the current academy is, it isn't quite at the level to compete with the very best youth systems in Europe. At least not yet it isn't.

At least, though, it does seem fairly clear that under Frank McParland, Rodolfo Borrell, and Pep Segura the academy is once again in good hands and on the right track. Though they might want to look into a little extra shooting practice.

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