Last Saturday, Liverpool closed out their run in the inaugural NextGen Series with victory over Marseille in the third place game. It may not have been the final players or the fans would have been hoping for, it was rather overshadowed by the senior match taking place on the same day, and it was an untelevised affair played behind closed doors at Chelsea's training facilities. All of which has seen the result get little mention in the days since.
With a highlight package from the game making its way into the wilds of the internet, however, it gives us the perfect excuse to give a short send-off to what has been a hugely successful endeavour for the club. It's served to give Liverpool's kids a taste of European competition at an early age, forced them to match up against sides with radically different approaches to what they would see in the reserves league, and generally been a chance to get a better measure of just where Liverpool's academy stands in the rebuilding process.
The answer, it seems clear, is that the kids aren't quite ready to compete with the best of Europe's academies. From that standpoint it's provided something of a wake up call that, good as they may be, the current generation working their way through likely aren't set to collectively take the Premier League by storm. Still, aside from sharing in the finishing problems that plague Liverpool at every level, they did have their share of performances that suggest the academy isn't that far away from being a force.
Beyond looking at the academy's overall progress, it's also been a chance to take a closer look at many of the individual prospects. And in that sense, there have certainly been a few pleasant surprises—players that have perhaps been overlooked by most fans in the past who have used the NextGen Series as a chance to force their way into the conversation.
Key amongst them would have to be right back and Northern Ireland youth international Ryan McLaughlin. He only signed with the club last summer, and he's yet to turn 18, but the early returns suggest that in a few years he'll be adding his name to Liverpool's growing logjam of young talent at right back.
Moving up the pitch, there's also Hungarian playmaker Krisztian Adorjan. He's been firmly in the shadow of the more highly touted Suso since the Spaniard arrived from Cadiz in 2009, but with Suso's development seeming to stall slightly in the current season, Adorjan's consistently strong performances in the free role behind the striker were almost impossible to overlook.
If they along with oft-discussed wunderkind Raheem Sterling and a generally attractive style of play are the key positives Liverpool take from the tournament—not to mention the chance to scout and then poach Sporting Lisbon's highly rated Joao Carlos Teixeira—there are also a few doubts that have surfaced. The obvious is of course that Liverpool's coaching staff really need to make changes on the training ground to improve finishing on matchday. Unfortunately but unavoidably, too, there were also some players who when faced with continental competition didn't seem quite as impressive as they had in the past.
Of course all of the players are still very young, and just as none of the most promising performers are a lock to make an impact with Liverpool's first team in the coming years, so too are none of those who seem to have stumbled or stalled in the NextGen Series destined to never make it. Still, after spending the past few years as the brightest lights of Liverpool's revamped academy, it's difficult not to at least touch on how a player like Fernando Suso failed to make an impact and was often outshone by Adorjan. Similarly, the highly regarded Conor Coady seemed far less convincing than the player whose quality last season forced his inclusion on the substitute's bench with the first team on two occasions.
In the end, of course, aside from perhaps Raheem Sterling none of the players involved seem likely to see regular minutes next year, and so we're left to take the competition for what it was: A good growth opportunity for the kids, and a chance to get a better measure of where the club stands for everybody else. On that note, enjoy a bit of the third place game, from Michael Ngoo mixing bits of brilliance with moments of frustration to Adam Morgan's uncanny ability to just score to a sighting or two of the next next big thing, Jordon Ibe.