First-team minutes have been hard to come by for the youth contigent that featured so regularly earlier in the season--neither of Raheem Sterling nor Suso have found any repetition of the regularity with which they flanked Luis Suarez, as the latter dropped off fairly quickly and the former's time in the starting lineup ground to a halt once Daniel Sturridge arrived in full. Similar stories for Jonjo Shelvey, whose struggles for consistency after a bright start have been well documented, and Andre Wisdom, who dropped to the bench once both Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique were fit at the same time again.
Each had some sort of positive impact during their respective stints with the senior squad, but in a world in which depth and Liverpool could co-exist peacefully, none would have logged near the number of minutes they did during the fall. Shelvey was probably the most likely of the bunch to feature after lingering on the fringes last season, and while Sterling got his debut last season, a role in the starting eleven on such a consistent basis was more than most would have predicted heading into the year.
All of which is a long way to say that seeing them included in the U21 squad last night had a sense of fit to it, with each starting in familiar positions in an eleven that also included Adam Morgan, Krisztian Adorjan, Stephen Sama, and, in a cameo at the back, Conor Coady. It was simultaneously an over- and under-strength side; injuries to Jakub Sokolic, Jordan Rossiter, Marc Pelosi, Samed Yesil, Brad Smith, and Jon Flanagan (who might have been on loan anyway) had depleted Alex Inglethorpe's numbers to start with, and the FA Youth Cup tie with Leeds on Thursday led the manager to rest Jordon Ibe and Lloyd Jones.
Still, it was an impressive list of names for Liverpool, and as you'd expect in a tie with Manchester United at any level, it was fairly frenetic stuff for much of the early going. United had the better of the chances due to some poor defending, but Danny Ward made a couple of smart saves to keep the match scoreless. Liverpool were able to pose a threat at the other end, most notably when Adam Morgan blasted a deflected shot off the post from close range, but things stayed level heading into the break.
A second yellow for Sama left Liverpool with only ten men, forcing Shelvey to right-back, but they nearly took the lead on a handful of occasions, with a Joao Carlos Teixeira's shot from range tipped just wide in the final ten minutes. It looked as though the points would be shared, but a late scramble from a United free-kick left Michel Fornaiser with a chance in front of goal, and his fluffed volley floated over the head of Jonjo Shelvey on the goal line and in for the winner.
The performances ranged from decent to disappointing for those that we've seen in the first team; Andre Wisdom was serviceable at right-back before shifting centrally after Sama's sending-off, Raheem Sterling posed the occasional threat down the left, Jonjo Shelvey was sporadic through the midfield and while deputizing at fullback, and Suso felt the need to apologize for what was a largely indifferent display.
On the whole, though, it was time on the pitch in a competitive match, something that's been at a premium for those who spent much of the early season as first-team regulars. And in some cases--particularly for Teixeira--it was another chance to see the promise of other youngsters that haven't yet made the breakthrough, and regardless of results, that's an encouraging sight.