As Liverpool’s senior side maintain their strong start to the campaign – aided, of course, by the wayward Riyad Mahrez – behind them the club’s Academy teams are enjoying mixed fortunes.
Neil Critchley’s Under-23s and Barry Lewtas’ Under-18s continue to develop, with Academy director Alex Inglethorpe enthused by the progress made by both sides – as well as those below them.
Jurgen Klopp is regularly updated on events up at Kirkby, and is looking forward to the amalgamation of Liverpool’s first-team and youth setups. The Reds boss attended a special ‘breaking ground’ ceremony last month as work began on the club’s new £50million training complex. Work is expected be completed in time for the 2020/21 season.
In the meantime, Goal continues to keep a close eye on Anfield’s emerging stars of the future. With Trent Alexander-Arnold continuing to shine for the senior team, and the likes of Harry Wilson making their mark out on loan, who will be next to step up from the youth ranks? There are plenty of contenders right now.
Here’s all the latest…
Critchley is nothing if not honest, a straight talker who values the development of footballers over the pursuit of personal glory.
But the Under-23s boss has been far from happy with what he has seen from his side so far this term.
It’s been a disrupted campaign, in fairness, with Critchley asked by Klopp to give minutes to first-teamers in some games, then denied their services in others.
After failing to win any of their first four Premier League 2 games, the Reds benefited from the presence of senior strikers Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke, both of whom scored in a 3-0 win over Swansea City. Nathaniel Clyne, once a contender for England at right-back, also started.
If Clyne’s struggles – he has not featured in the Premier League this season – are notable, then the demise of Lazar Markovic is even more stark. The one-time £20m signing has been training with Critchley’s team on a permanent basis after being told he was surplus to requirements by Klopp, and has featured twice so far for the Under-23s.
Unfortunately, both of those games ended in defeat. Liverpool were thrashed 4-0 at Arsenal, for whom Eddie Nketiah starred, and went down 1-0 at West Brom in the Premier League Cup on Saturday.
“We lacked quality, invention and urgency, and ultimately struggled to break them down,” Critchley said. “We need an improvement in the next game.”
He’s not wrong. The Reds sit eighth in the Premier League 2 table having won just two of their first seven games. A settled side would benefit Critchley, for sure, but a lack of firepower continues to haunt the young Reds – can Bobby Adekanye, Liam Millar or Glen McAuley step up to the plate in terms of goalscoring?
Or will Rhian Brewster, back in training after a lengthy lay-off due to a knee injury, be the answer to Critchley’s prayers? The England Under-17 World Cup star is desperate to get back into action, and will do so with Critchley’s side, though he will be eased into action gently after such a long absence.
It was left to a midfielder, Matty Virtue, and a winger, Rafa Camacho, to grab the goals in the Reds’ most impressive win of the season so far, a 3-1 triumph over Chelsea last month.
Camacho, along with Curtis Jones, continues to look more than at home at this level, no doubt benefiting from being around Klopp’s first-team squad at Melwood on a regular basis. Another Under-23s starlet, Adam Lewis, has been pictured with the senior side in recent weeks, and is tipped by many to make the step up permanently in the future.
An aggressive tackler who is comfortable in possession and delivers quality, whether from left-back or as a midfielder, Fazakerley-born Lewis will have his eye on Alberto Moreno’s spot as understudy to Andy Robertson, surely? Moreno is in the final year of his contract at Anfield, and Liverpool may well have a local lad ready to step into his place if he does depart.
For Lewtas, things are going a little more swimmingly.
His Under-18 side have lost just one of their first 10 games at home and abroad – and we’ve been guaranteed goals along the way!
Lewtas’ side have scored an incredible 36 goals so far, though they needed only one to see off Manchester City at Kirkby on Saturday.
The goalscorer was inevitable, Bobby Duncan netting against his former club. It was the England Under-17 international’s eighth goal of the season already – he and captain Paul Glatzel (seven goals) continue to look a potent partnership.
The goals have been shared around though, with no fewer than 13 different scorers so far. Thrilling wins over Newcastle (4-1), Blackburn (4-3) and Stoke (4-2) have shown a team packed full of attacking intent.
Equally impressive was the way Lewtas’ team began their UEFA Youth League campaign, running over Paris Saint-Germain 5-2 at St Helens, with first-team prospects Camacho (2) and Jones among the scorers.
Liverpool’s second European game, away at Napoli, ended in farce with a controversial late equaliser denying the Reds victory in a 1-1 draw. Lewtas, to his credit, kept his cool after the hosts’ leveller was absurdly allowed to stand despite there being two balls on the pitch. Bobby Adekanye had earlier given Liverpool the lead, and continues to shine in continental football.
For the Under-18s, the emergence of young forward Fidel O’Rourke has been noted. Liverpool-born, the 16-year-old has netted three times already this season including a dramatic late winner at Blackburn, and this weekend was called up by the Under-23s for their Premier League Cup tie at West Brom, replacing Markovic from the bench. We can expect to hear a lot more about him in the coming weeks and months, he is sharp, quick and has an eye for goal.
The same goes for Tom Clayton, a towering a centre-back who has already represented Scotland at Under-19 level. Strong and rapid with a sweet left foot, Clayton forms a strong partnership with Rhys Williams at the back, while Lewtas also has high hopes for Ki-Jana Hoever, a versatile defender brought in from Ajax in the summer. Hoever has so far been eased into action, but is expected to play a big role as the season progresses.