Neil Critchley’s U23 side are currently at the top of the Premier League 2 table, and they will aim to consolidate their grip on the top spot when they host Leicester City at Prenton Park on Sunday. But their manager has acknowledged, and is almost hoping, that his side may lose some of its top performers when the calendar flips over to 2018. It’s all consistent with Critchley’s mandate to prioritize development over winning.
According to the Echo, Liverpool will be aiming to open discussions in January with potential loan destinations for some of the younger players who have caught the eye in helping the U23 side claim pole position. The goal would be to offer those players the experience of playing consistently in front of bigger crowds in matches that really count, and hopefully help the youngsters follow in the footsteps of Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“We’re governed by people who come and approach us,” noted Critchley. “Hopefully if they’re doing really well they get the option of three or four clubs and then we can sit down with them and have a discussion about what might be the best club to suit them.”
As for the question of who might actually get to leave on loan, Critchley hinted that there were plenty of potential candidates, including players who have already been on loan spells as well as a few players who haven’t.
“There’s a few obvious ones who have been out already - Lloyd Jones, Cam Brannagan, Harry Wilson, they would be the obvious candidates,” added the U23 squad boss. “But then there’s a few others, an Ovie (Ejaria), a Matty Virtue, a Corey Whelan, who are just under that radar but at some point they will want to experience something we can’t give them now, something different, a different voice, a different way of playing, playing in front of 10,000 to 15,000 people.”
The loss of some subset of those names would almost certainly mean an uphill path for the side in 2018, but Critchley adheres to the view that this would be a positive overall sign, not just for his squad but for the club in general.
“We want to win games, of course we do, you are expected to win games at Liverpool but the pathway of our players is the most important thing,” he explained. “So if some of our players get the chance to go to Melwood or go out on loan if we think it’s right for them or they think it’s right for themselves we won’t stand in their way.”
"If that means we were a younger side or some of the results started to suffer then so be it,” said Critchley. “That means the next players are getting a new challenge, and if it meant we didn’t win the league then so be it.”