Neil Critchley‘s Liverpool U18s took on Stoke City at Kirkby on Saturday morning and celebrated a convincing 3-1 victory.
The U18s produced a terrific display as two goals from Glen McAuley and two assists from Adam Lewis helped sink the visitors.
Rhian Brewster added a third for Liverpool in the dying minutes of the second half to round off an impressive performance, cancelling out Jordan Greenidge’s strike for Stoke.
Stoke played most of the game with 10 men as a run from Liam Millar forced a foul on the edge of the area from Potters defender Scot Wara.
Liverpool took advantage and continued to dominate as the Reds youngsters snatched their third win of the season under Critchley.
There were a number of impressive individual displays and promising signs throughout the game so here’s our five standouts from the victory.
Critchley has made a number of formation changes in the past and opted to go with a back three against Stoke.
Liverpool lined up in a 3-2-3-2 formation with two 16-year-old wing-backs in the side, as Rafael Camacho and Adam Lewis provided extra defensive support for George Johnston, Conor Masterson and Mich’el Parker.
The two young wing-backs put in a terrific performance as Liverpool looked competent and organised throughout the dominant display.
It was clear the team had worked on the new system in training and it paid off as the Reds performance carried attacking intent and defensive solidity.
“At first-team level, you’ll have to adapt to changes,” Critchley said prior to kickoff.
“They need to learn to use different formations and strategies as they learn the game at this level. It’ll be a test for them but one I’m sure they’ll do well in.
“[Klopp’s] shown his faith in a lot of them since [November] and hopefully there will be a chance for a few of them to showcase what they can do again.”
Strong Out Wide
The new formation worked well for Liverpool as it provided plenty of space out wide, which the young Reds used to their advantage.
The most success came from the left as Lewis snatched up two assists in the first half after a brilliant individual display.
Exploiting the space given to him by the Stoke midfield, it was his two delightful deliveries which set up McAuley for his first-half brace.
The wing-back was involved in some terrific buildup play and his early crosses caused problems for the visiting defence throughout the game.
Camacho played as a right-sided wing-back for the first time and showed promise too; the youngster usually plays as an attacker through the middle, but he was trusted in an unfamiliar role and did well.
He has the ability to beat the first man and did so on several occasions, showing confidence and creativity.
The only thing missing from Camacho’s performance was the final ball and if he had looked to put a ball across earlier, he may have had more success, like Lewis on the opposite flank.
Overall, it was a great display from both youngsters though and Critchley will be very content with how his side set up to attack—particularly in the first half.
Organisation in Midfield
All the focus was on Liverpool’s attacking players, who produced an exciting first-half performance, but it was an organised display from the Reds’ midfield which set the precedent for the game.
Liam Coyle was particularly impressive as a deep central midfielder and it was his breakup play which helped setup the second goal.
With Coyle alongside Jordan Hunter, the duo provided protection for the Liverpool back three and worked hard throughout the game to put pressure on Stoke when the visitors were in possession.
Coyle was very busy and he was a standout performer for the young Reds, as it was his ruthless display which allowed Brewster the opportunity to play with more freedom as an attacking midfielder, supporting the forwards.
Plenty of Attacking Talent
There was plenty of attacking talent on show for the young Liverpool side at Kirkby and it is promising to see for Jurgen Klopp.
With the U23s playing on Sunday, it meant Critchley had a few key players missing, including Yan Dhanda and Herbie Kane, but that didn’t faze his side, who had plenty of exciting prospects in their place.
Toni Gomes, one of the most promising players in the academy, started on the bench as he’s expected to feature in Michael Beale’s side, but came on for Liam Millar on the 56th minute and looked threatening as usual.
Millar had a few opportunities to get on the scoresheet in the first half and made some great runs in behind the two centre-backs. It was one of these runs which forced a foul from Wara in the opening 20 minutes and he saw his opponent sent off with a straight red.
Elsewhere, McAuley was outstanding throughout the game and caused problems for the Stoke defence, working tirelessly and was rewarded for his efforts with an impressive brace, while Brewster highlighted his potential as a star for the future.
Lewis, McAuley and Coyle all stood out for the U18s, further underlining the talent at Critchley’s disposal.
The early crosses, advanced wing play and disciplined positioning from Lewis were impressive and he was crucial to the Reds’ dominant display in the opening half-hour.
McAuley’s technique in both goals was sublime and his first touch to set himself up to volley the second goal was something Klopp would have been impressed with.
Coyle’s work rate, pressing and ruthlessness in midfield was paramount to the Reds’ victory and given the first team’s lack of consistency in the holding-midfield role, it was encouraging to see someone in the ranks demonstrating such promise.
There was also a good performance from goalkeeper Kamil Grabara, who followed up a strong display in the U23s squad against Chelsea with another solid showing.
The Polish stopper has trained with Klopp’s squad on a number of occasions so far this season, and it would be no surprise to see some of his team-mates involved in the future, given the quality on show at Kirkby.