Liverpool’s youngsters certainly didn’t disgrace themselves with a positive performance, despite a harsh 5-0 scoreline against Aston Villa‘s seniors.
Aston Villa 5-0 Liverpool
League Cup Quarter-Final, Villa Park
December 17, 2019
Goals: Hourihane 15′, Boyes OG 17′, Kodjia 37′, 45′, Wesley 90′
Missing faces and big chances
Even to term this lineup an under-21 outfit would do it a disservice, with the average age just 19 years and 183 days!
And even so, one or two of this team’s more, erm, ‘experienced‘ players were absent.
Rhian Brewster, of two senior appearances, missed out through injury, while Yasser Larouci was similarly absent having spent pre-season with the first team—then there’s Neco Williams and Curtis Jones, both with the seniors.
Without a first-teamer in sight, it essentially meant this side contained names that many seasoned Liverpool fans wouldn’t even know, unless they rigorously watched the youth-level academy fixtures.
Tom Hill and Morgan Boyes haven’t made massive headlines (relative to their age group of course) in the way that, say, Paul Glatzel and Bobby Duncan did last year.
But they have impressed all the same, earning debuts along with Luis Longstaff, Isaac Christie-Davies and Tony Gallacher.
It gives fans an insight into who the next wave of hopefuls will be, following up the progression of Jones and Co. this season—and gives the players themselves a chance to experience what they’re aiming to attain in the long term.
Liverpool are Liverpool, whatever the names
Play our way, from seniors to youth. That’s the approach, that’s the aim, and that’s certainly what we could see aspects of, even in a defeat.
Ahead of the match and with encouragement from Jurgen Klopp, stand-in manager Neil Critchley spoke of how the younger players take from above them the way to play and approach games.
“The mentality that is bred into the first-team players here, seeps into the academy as well, and you can’t help but get influenced by what goes on above you,” he said.
“We know how we’re going to approach the game, and it’s important that we go and play like a Liverpool team.”
We’ve already seen it this season: youngsters like Harvey Elliott not looking remotely out of place when they play alongside a handful of seniors, seeming every inch the Reds player in terms of positional work and technical ability.
Here, on a grander scale, it was the same. Playing from the back, buildup work with triangles in the channels, the 4-3-3 basic shape and full-backs looking to get forward and cross from deep.
Pepijn Lijnders has spoken about the first team’s identity in recent weeks; here it was in evidence that those below that level are attempting to follow suit.
There are a few in this squad who, clearly, need moves for one reason or another; this was a good opportunity in the fabled shop window for them to show what they can bring to another club.
Pedro Chirivella, 22, and Herbie Kane, 21, are the midfield men with plenty of experience already; loans at least are required for the half-season, though the Spaniard in particular has been close to a permanent switch more than once already. Now is probably the time to complete that deal.
Similarly, Isaac Christie-Davies is 22 and needs some senior action, and probably showed enough against Villa to suggest he could at least be a good option for Championship or League One clubs for five months.
Tony Gallacher (20) and Caoimhin Kelleher (21) could also be candidates, while a loan move has been suggested for striker Brewster (19) and midfielder Jones (18), who didn’t play here.
Watching sides can’t fail but have been impressed by the work rate, mentality and approach to the game from a tactical perspective by these boys, so even the odd surprise loan deal for the younger players isn’t entirely out of the question.
Giant amongst…well, not men
There’s no question who the big talent was here: Elliott was probably one of the best players on the pitch, let alone Liverpool’s finest.
He’s already a senior player, really, and would be a regular in the Premier League at most other clubs, even at 16.
His talent will be on show for the Reds this season, no question, probably starting with the FA Cup third-round derby match against Everton, but don’t be surprised to see him make a league appearance or two along the way.
The vision and control of the ball he possesses make him a standout, and give it four or five years of progression and physical growth and there’s little question he’ll become one of the free-scoring inside forward types which are so popular around the game right now.
Patience and progression is the name of the game for him.
Bright futures and next opportunities
Beyond this exit, the chances for the wider group of youngsters are likely to be lessened, with no further League Cup games and Klopp’s first-team squad to be boosted by at least one January arrival.
It’s not just about this game and this season for these youngsters, though, and this fixture and unexpected chance must serve just as a bonus game to whet the appetite and push them to improve even more.
If nothing else, the scoreline should show the youngsters how much more they can learn and improve if they are to make it as established senior players in years to come.
Many of them have the talent, but it’s all about consistency, improvement and mindset needing to be of the very highest level.
Back to the under-23s and even under-18s they’ll mostly go—but for Elliott, Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp van den Berg it’s off to Qatar to support the seniors at the Club World Cup after impressively mature displays against this Villa side.
As for the fans, it’s back to the main action and the chase for trophies—this time to be the best in the world!