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Results & Fixtures: Under-21s
When we last left off, Liverpool had clinched at worst second in the Barclays' Premier Under-21 League and, with Chelsea winning its final two matches, that is where they finished. It was an exciting campaign for the young Reds, albeit one that saw perhaps slightly less progression to the first team this season than last—João Carlos Teixeira and Brad Smith's cameos and, if you count him, Jon Flanagan being the notable exceptions—mostly on account of the enormous success enjoyed by Brendan Rodgers and his first team squad. As of this season, the Under-21 league instituted a playoff system, so the final table standings meant that Liverpool were to face Manchester United at Anfield in the semi-final of the league, and face them they did about ten days ago.
Alex Inglethorpe had a fairly strong squad available from which to select his team, although academy player of the year Jordan Rossiter missed out due to injury. Notable among the manager's selections were returning loanee Ryan McLaughlin, red-hot striker Jack Dunn, Teixeira, and the stellar midfield duo of Jordan Lussey and Cameron Brannagan. James Wilson, who would score a brace against Hull City in the Premier League four days later, started up front for United.
The first half started quickly, with Liverpool lucky to escape after Wilson pounced on an errant pass by Brad Smith and fired into the post. After a shaky start, Liverpool settled and started to threaten the Manchester United goal. In one particularly impressive move, Lussey fired a tantalizing pass along the left byline and beyond the right-back into the path of Smith, whose fantastic drilled cross was met by Kristoffer Peterson, but the Swede headed well over the bar. Despite the progress, Liverpool were lucky to avoid conceding after a corner pinged around the 6 yard box and found Wilson's feet practically on the goal-line, but goalkeeper Ryan Fulton recovered well. The luck ran out, however, as shortly thereafter and just before the halftime whistle, young Belgian winger Andreas Pereira fired a beautifully curled shot into the far corner from some 25-odd yards out.
The second half brought with it a bevy of chances for Liverpool to equalize, the best of which was undoubtedly the opportunity Villyan Bijev missed from about 4 yards after a sustained period of pressure from the hosts. Peterson and Rafa Paez had decent headed opportunities as well, but both were blazed over the bar. The highlights below are worth watching if only for some of the outstanding attacking stuff the young lads produced whilst chasing the game at the end. The quality of the play and some of the chances means Liverpool probably deserved to at least draw level during the match, but it wasn't to be. Manchester United advanced to the final tomorrow against Chelsea.
Although disappointed with the result of the final match, Alex Inglethorpe rightly highlighted how proud he is of the boys who, despite being relatively young for the league, managed to produce some thrilling attacking play, lead the league in goals scored, and ultimately come quite close to progressing to the final. It's been a joy witnessing some of the progress this year, and if reports are true about tomorrow's friendly, many of the boys will be given the opportunity to show a broader audience and, more importantly, Brendan Rodgers what they're capable of.
Results & Fixtures: Under-18s
|4/26||Aston Villa U18||L 2-3||Chirivella, Sinclair|
|5/2||Bolton U18||W 4-2||Sinclair, OG, Chirivella, Trickett-Smith|
Unlike the U21s, Neil Critchley's U18 squad had significantly less to play for over the final weeks of the season after a disappointing run-in over February and March left Liverpool a distant third—where the top two qualified for the playoff—of the North section of the Premier Youth League. A U17 squad had traveled to Amsterdam to compete in a youth tournament (the Future Cup) hosted by Ajax, finishing runners-up, and returned just in time to face Aston Villa and see out the remaining fixtures of the season. Though the Future Cup received little coverage, the boys scored some pretty amazing goals in the Netherlands.
The Villa match saw the return of Pedro Chirivella from injury, who played, and played well, in a slightly more advanced role than when he played last. In the first half, Chirivella opened the scoring with a cool finish after some neat work by Jerome Sinclair in the penalty box, and could have made it two had he not fluffed the chance straight to the keeper. After a host of chances by both teams, an exciting first half ended 1-0. In the second half, Villa showed why their academy is lauded so, with three explosive goals handing them the 3-1 lead. Sinclair grabbed a late consolation, and the boys fell just short.
In the next and final game of the season, Liverpool exhibited the kind of attacking play that has been such a pleasure to watch this season. After Bolton opened the scoring in the 55th minute, Liverpool fired off four goals in about 15 minutes. Daniel Trickett-Smith's was probably the pick of the lot, but three of the four (the fourth being an OG) were quite excellent and deserving of a viewing.
Although the final standing was somewhat disappointing as far as Liverpool were concerned, the U18 team flashed some magnificent play throughout the year, passed players onto the U21 team, and showed us glimpses of some of Liverpool's most brilliant talents. Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent, Sheyi Ojo, Sinclair, Chirivella, Sergi Canos, Daniel Trickett-Smith, and others have been truly delightful to watch all season long.
For both the U21s and the U18s we'll be back over the summer to recap the season, recognize the top performers, and detail expectations for next year.
News & Notes
Liverpool Secure Double Youth Signings
Over the past few weeks, it seems Liverpool have been somewhat busy in the youth transfer market. First, Ovie Ejaria, a Nigerian midfielder who is a product of the Arsenal academy, signed for the Reds recently, according to reports out of Nigeria. Then, later in the week, Fox Sports reported that 16 year-old Australian Jake Brimmer, who we mentioned back in December, has officially signed a three year deal with Liverpool. Both players played for Liverpool in the Future Cup in Amsterdam, so it appears the reports are true, but we will likely need to wait until the fall to catch the first glimpse of these lads with the U18s.