Recent Updates: February 14th | December 19th | November 30th
Results & Fixtures: Under-21s
|2/21||Stoke City U21||W 1-0||Brannagan|
|2/27||Wolves U21||W 4-0||Dunn, Lussey, Rossiter, OG|
|3/2||Reading U21||L 1-2||Lussey|
|3/7||West Ham U21||W 2-0||Dunn (2)|
|3/14||Blackburn Rovers U21||D 1-1||OG|
Alex Inglethorpe's Under-21 side entered their first truly busy period this season looking to gain some ground on first-place Fulham, albeit with a number of games in hand. With a decent showing—ten points out of an available 15—Liverpool remain 3 points back with a game in hand. Overall, we're seeing a similar trend to what we saw last year at this point in the season: as it begins to wind down, the top performing Under-18s players (most notably Pedro Chirivella) start getting their shot with the U21s, and top performing U21s get called into training with Brendan Rodgers' senior side (I'm looking at you, João Carlos Teixeira), both of which put a little pressure on results.
That being said, Liverpool entered this relatively busy stretch with a good result against Stoke, with a poacher's effort by Cameron Brannagan enough to see Liverpool through. Fantastic defending by Lloyd Jones, and some key saves by Yusuf Mersin contributed to the win as well. They could have scored more, specifically from two fabulous efforts by Jack Dunn, but a nice 1-0 victory will do.
The next match saw Liverpool get back to their rampant ways against Wolves at Anfield. A devastating Liverpool attack opened the scoring with a ferocious Jack Dunn effort from well outside the box, followed by a Wolves own-goal "assisted" by Dunn as well just after halftime. Shortly thereafer, Villyan Bijev crossed in for a Jordan Lussey headed goal, and then Jordan Rossiter picked the ball up about 35 yards out, dribbled a few times, and curled a beautiful left footed effort past the keeper to close the scoring. 4 goals (and could have been more) and a clean sheet? Please and thank you.
The next three matches saw some mixed results. First, Jerome Sinclair made his first ever start (seriously?) for the U21s in a loss to Reading. Liverpool conceded early and late, sandwiching a scrappy Jordan Lussey equalizer, leaving the U21s with their first loss of 2014. Although he struggled to make a significant impact on the match, Sinclair looked fit and eager to pressure the Reading defenders high up the pitch. Next, in a match we covered due to the returns of Lucas and Mamadou Sakho, Liverpool eased past West Ham 2-0 thanks to a brace from the red-hot Dunn, and the solid shepherding of the senior duo. Finally, the boys were held at Kirkby by Blackburn after a lackluster first-half saw Inglethorpe introduce the mightily impressive midfield duo of Rossiter and Brannagan.
Right, then, for a little analysis. After playing almost the entire season for the U21s, Jordan Rossiter is starting to assert himself in an increasingly noticeable way and take his game to a new level. Already an exciting talent coming into the season, and only turning 17 next week, he is undoubtedly a massive prospect, and anybody not yet paying attention to him probably should be. I'm not sure what this means for next season, but I think he may be too young to be considered a loan candidate and yet, honestly, probably good enough to break through to the first-team. Others who've stood out include Brannagan, Dunn, Lussey, and Jones. Overall, despite a relatively young team, the standard has remained quite high for the U21s.
Next match: Friday, March 21st, at home against Newcastle United U21, at 7:00pm BST/2:00pm EST, live in LFC.tv.
Results & Fixtures: Under-18s
|2/15||Sunderland U18||W 1-0||Phillips||Barclay's U18 Premier League|
|2/19||Watford U18||W 2-0||Trickett-Smith, Wilson||FA Youth Cup|
|2/22||Wolves U18||W 1-0||Sinclair||Barclay's U18 Premier League|
|3/1||Newcastle United U18||W 4-1||Marsh, Trickett-Smith, Wilson (2)||Barclay's U18 Premier League|
|3/8||Manchester United U18||D 1-1||Trickett-Smith||Barclay's U18 Premier League|
|3/12||Reading U18||L 4(4) - 4(5)||Williams, Rossiter, Trickett-Smith, Wilson||FA Youth Cup|
|3/15||Bolton U18||L 2-4||Ojo (Pen), Waldron||Barclay's U18 Premier League|
Speaking of busy fixture lists, Neil Critchley's U18s have played 7 matches in the past month, with good runs both in the league and the FA Youth Cup coming to an end. In the league, the boys rattled off three consecutive impressive wins before being held by United in the mini-rivalry. The final match, against Blackburn, came just three days after an emotionally and physically taxing exit against Reading in the FA Youth Cup. That, combined with swirling conditions, made it very difficult for Liverpool to cope, and they struggled to a disappointing loss. All match reports and video highlights are available on the club's official site.
The more important matches came in the Youth Cup, first in the round of 16 against Watford. Liverpool looked dominant throughout, creating chance after chance and finally breaking through when right-back Connor Randall found Trickett-Smith for an easy finish. Later, the impressive Randall, who has trained under Rodgers this season, found Wilson for a very similar goal to help Liverpool ease to the finish.
In the quarter-finals, Liverpool came up against Reading at the Madejski, and for those who missed it, this match had a bit of everything. After looking sluggish and trailing 2-0 to two impressive Reading goals after 80 minutes, the young reds clawed back, first with a great long-range goal from Jordan Williams, and later thanks to an amazing last-gasp effort by Rossiter to send the match into extra time. Madness! Extra time got even crazier. First, Sergi Canos assisted a scrappy Trickett-Smith effort, and then the Spaniard played a Coutinho-esque ball to Wilson to make it 4-2, all in the first half of extra-time.
But then cramp, fatigue, exhaustion, whatever, all hit Liverpool's young lads. 15 minutes left to hang on to advance to the semi-finals, and they couldn't quite muster it. They conceded twice in the last ten minutes of the second half of extra-time, which sent the match to penalties where Reading were quite simply perfect. They fired five stunning penalties and, though Liverpool were solid, Brannagan missed his, and that was enough to send Reading through. A truly stunning match ended in heartbreaking disappointment for the boys, but on the bright side most of them are young enough to still be eligible for the Youth Cup next season. The highlights, below, are well worth watching.
The standouts recently have been Harry Wilson, who, with 14 goals on the season, continues to breakout and should spend most of his time with the U21s next year, Trickett-Smith, who despite being considered perhaps a notch below some of the other exciting talents cannot stop scoring, Canos, whose incisive passing and mature physique above all else has been very impressive lately, and Ryan Kent, who, with his fantastic set pieces and frightening ability to dribble at pace, may be my underdog favorite of the bunch.
Next match: Saturday, March 22nd, at home against Manchester City U21, at 11:00am BST/7:00am EST, live on LFC.tv.