FA Youth Cup Semi Final Preview

It will be tight, it will be passionate, it will be vibrant. Liverpool U18’s take on Birmingham City’s U18’s in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup Semi Final on Thursday evening at St. Andrews as Hughie McAuley’s side bid to reach a third Youth Cup Final in four years.

Both sides will be looking to establish a firm advantage ahead of the 2nd leg, but its Liverpool who will start the two legged tie as favourites. Liverpool’s Youth Cup campaign began back in December with a tough 2-1 win over Leeds United and since then they have overcome Bristol Rovers, a very strong Chelsea and at the end of January, Hughie McAuleys young side beat Bolton Wanderers 4-2.

Birmingham City have reached the final only once before in 1967 and were last semi finalists in 1985. Injection of pace, finesse, width, pace on the flanks, a strong midfield and finishing ability up front will be the catalyst to Liverpool getting a result at St. Andrews. The Blues play in the Academy Group B League Table where they currently reside in mid table. Birmingham are a passing team and will be looking to keep the ball down on the pitch. Their dangerman will be midfielder Mitch McPike. McPike has been an impressive player for their U18’s and scored a stunning 35 yarder in their 5th Round win over Cardiff City. Other players to keep an eye out for will be striker Jake Jervis and midfielder Luke Hubbins. Hubbins was the goal hero for the Blues in the previous round of the cup as his clinical 86th minute strike ensured a 1-0 victory for the Blues. Birmingham are expected to make just one change to the starting team that defeated Watford in the quarter-finals. Jack Rutter is injured so Slovakian Jakub Hronec is likely to line-up at right-back.

My Line up Prediction….

I’d expect Liverpool to line up similarly to the way they did during the 4-2 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the Quarter Finals. Also, the return of Daniel Ayala and most recently Michael Roberts and Alex Kacaniklic from injury is a welcome boost. Dean Bouzanis, who has been in rich vein of form lately is expected to start in goal. I’m also expecting Ayala to return to the defence to partner Joe Kennedy with young Andre Wisdom probably move to the right and Buchtmann on the left. McAuley also has the option of young Jack Robinson at left back. Jack has been a model of consistency since his arrival at the Academy. He has played most of the season at Liverpool under-15 age category but he has featured regularly for the Academy under-16 team at left back. He’s highly rated by his coaches at international level and has featured with Andre Wisdom in the England U16 squad on numerous occasions. Since his introduction to the U18’s team he has shown the ability and self belief needed to succeed at Liverpool, he’s shown astute reading of the game, he brings balance to the side, doesn’t make mistakes and is solid in defence. He made his debut last month for the U18’s in our 3-1 win over Crewe where he had an impressive game at left back and has followed this up with a few more appearances this month including the Leeds game when he nodded in an 83rd minute consolation goal during our 3-1 defeat. He is comfortable at full-back or in the heart of defence and is an excellent reader of the game with fine passing ability ‘“ definitely another youngster with a good future ahead of him…

Steve Irwin will also return to the U18’s line up on Thursday night. Irwin has already experienced Youth Cup success after being part of Steve Heighways squad that retained the Youth Cup back in 2007 after an exciting penalty shoot out victory over Manchester United after the aggregate score finished 2-2. Irwin has returned to the U18’s set up this season for the Youth Cup run where has has impressed immensely. Last month he bagged an impressive brace to help the reds secure a 4-2 victory over Bolton.

In central midfield will be young Adam Pepper. Pepper will be our key man in exploiting gaps in Birmingham’s defence. Pepper has shown great link up play, creativity and passing technique in recent games, he knows how to create space for himself and can run the midfield. On the right will be David Amoo. Amoo has been a goalscoring hero for the young Reds this season in the FA Youth Cup run. He headed home the only goal of the game in the 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the Youth Cup 5th Round in front of more than 2000 spectators to cap a dream Anfield debut. Amoo then continued his goalscoring streak at Anfield in the next round in the 4-2 win over Bolton.

I’m predicting Thomas Ince to start the game on the left ahead of Alex Kacaniklic, who should return to the squad for this game after injury. Ince is an exciting young player who is typically a left winger, but he has also played a striking role for the Reds this season from where he scored in our 2-1 win over Leeds earlier in the competition, or a central midfield role… Im expecting Nathan Eccleston and Lauri Dalla Valle should start upfront. Eccleston has the ability to create chances for himself using his pace, power and skill with great technique and pace to burn. He starred during the Reds Quarter Final win over Bolton when he scored one, created one and was at the heart of everything going forward for Liverpool.Liverpools main attacking threat will be Lauri Dalla Valle. Lauri has made an impressive impact at Liverpools academy since his arrival in January 2008. His exquisit touch and clinical finishing has already seen him score 15 goals this season at the Academy, an impressive record. James Ellison is still injured with a back injury…

The match kicks off at 7pm tomorrow night at St Andrews Stadium, Birmingham. Meanwhile, in the other Semi Final, Arsenal are 2-1 up from the first leg against holders Manchester City.

Liverpools 2008/09 Youth Cup Campaign so far….
Round 3
Leeds United 1-2 Liverpool (Ince, Dalla Valle)

Round 4
Bristol Rovers 2-2 Liverpool (Dalla Valle 2)

Round 5
Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea (Amoo)

Quarter Final
Liverpool 4-2 Bolton (Eccleston, Irwin 2, Amoo)