Results & Fixtures: Under-21s
|1/26||Manchester United U21||L 1-2||Sinclair|
|2/7||Manchester City U21||W 2-1||Wilson, Trickett-Smith|
|2/16||Sunderland U21||W 1-0||Brannagan|
|3/2||Chelsea U21||W 2-0||Wilson, Sinclair|
Tis the season for English football's brightest young things to make an impression on managers near and far, as injuries, fixture congestion, and team struggles bring about squad shake-ups that provide opportunities. Liverpool's Under-21 squad is brimming with young talent interested in such things and, boy, has a carrot been dangled in the form of two brethren who have gone off and impressed. The first, Sheyi Ojo—apple of your humble scribbler's eye—has gone to Wigan and may as well have been nicknamed MOTM for the frequency with which he has garnered that particular honor, and the exploits of the second, Jordon Ibe, since returning from his own loan at Derby County hardly need to be recounted to you.
Under-21 manager Michael Beale has challenged the boys who thus far have remained at the Kirkby training ground to emulate their colleagues' success and hard work, perhaps earning a loan or senior call-up of their very own. The remainder of the season finally sees the U21 fixture list heat up, with roughly one match per week providing ample opportunities for the lads to showcase their talents. Furthermore, with the U18s now no longer in either the UEFA Youth League or the FA Youth Cup, as will be discussed below, most of the best U18 talent has now fully graduated to the U21 level.
Beale's squad is hitting its stride at the right time. Wins in all of the previous three, including two against the vaunted academies of Manchester City and Chelsea, have Liverpool poised and well primed in the Barclay's Under-21 Premier League. As of this weekend, Liverpool are 3 points behind the leaders Manchester City with two games in hand. And while it would be wonderful to compete for and win the league, it is the players' development with which the club is far more concerned.
Jerome Sinclair is one in particular who has sought to use his experience traveling with the first team to Istanbul last month to galvanize the remainder of his season. Having earned his senior debut six days after his 16th birthday during Brendan Rodgers' first season, Sinclair struggled with injuries last year. This year, he seems to be hitting new strides, scoring what was by my count his 17th goal of the season in all competitions in fine fashion against Chelsea last week.
Sinclair is in a race for top academy goalscorer with Harry Wilson (15 goals) and Sergi Canos (14), both of whom may also be strong loan candidates. These lads are deserving of our attention, and are a joy to watch as well. The attacking talent has rightfully received heaps of attention, but there has been a newfound defensive solidity as well, a credit to relative veterans Lloyd Jones and Dan Cleary, as well as Kevin Stewart who has been filling the defensive midfield void left by Jordan Rossiter and his injury woes.
Next up for Beale's side is the mini derby against Everton on Monday, March 9th, at 7:00pm BST / 3:00pm EST, live on LFC.tv. If not for Rossiter's injury this could have been billed the battle of the future of England's midfield, with Everton's fantastic and physical Ryan Ledson the Blues' counterpart. Regardless, the match should be an exciting showcase of Liverpool's wonderful young talent.
Results & Fixtures: Under-18s
|1/17||Barclay's U18 PL||Bolton U18||L 4-6||OG, Canos, Wilson, Gomes|
|1/21||FA Youth Cup||Derby County U18||W 5-2||Sinclair (2), Wilson (2), Canos|
|1/24||Barclay's U18 PL||Manchester City U18||L 2-3||Maxwell, Wilson|
|1/30||FA Youth Cup||Birmingham U18||L 2-3||Sinclair, Ejaria|
|2/14||Barclay's U18 PL||Sunderland U18||W 1-0||Maxwell|
|2/21||Barclay's U18 PL||Everton U18||L 0-5||NA|
|2/24||UEFA Youth League||Benfica U19||L 1-2||Canos|
|2/28||Barclay's U18 PL||Newcastle U18||L 1-3||Whelan|
|3/3||Barclay's U18 PL||Blackburn U18||W 4-2||Phillips (2), Ejaria, Hart|
It seems to happen every year. As players from the U21 go off on loan or to the senior side, top U18 players graduate to the U21s. This upwards pressure brings about the top U15 and U16 players quickly to the fore, and there tends to be something of an adjustment period, as the younger lads learn how to cope at the U18 level against older and bigger lads.
This is reflected in some difficult results as surely some will stick out from the list above. Notably, Liverpool crashed out of both the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup. Against Benfica, a Sergi Canos wondergoal and hard fought match was not enough to topple last season's runners-up. In the FA Youth Cup, an extremely disappointing extra-time defeat against Birmingham prevented Neil Critchley's side from making the deep cup they'd have been hoping for.
Of course, the 5-0 defeat to Everton cannot be ignored, and it presaged a three match skid only broken last week against Blackburn. Most of the older lads left the U18s to play in Benfica with the U19s, and frankly have not returned to the fold. This has brought an opportunity to lads such as Adam Phillips, who scored a brace in the untelevised match against Blackburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and new signings Ovie Ejaria and Madger Gomes. As last year and the year before, this is the time of the season for these 16 and 17 year olds to etch their names into our consciousness as we search for the next
Raheem Sterling Jordon Ibe Sheyi Ojo Harry Wilson.
With no further cup action available, the U18s have reached a temporary lull in their league schedule as the first phase of the league winds down this week, a second phase and eventual playoff will be scheduled in the coming weeks.