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‘Pressure of must-win games’ key to Liverpool youngsters’ continued development

Liverpool’s emerging youth have been exposed to the rigours and pressures of first-team football this season and Neil Critchley is eager to replicate the same environment.

With Jurgen Klopp‘s side facing a number of logistical nightmares throughout the season which included a promise of a winter break and a trip to Qatar while another competition was in motion, 21 members of the academy have been handed their debut in 2019/20.

From the penalty shootout win over Arsenal in the League Cup to the FA Cup win over Everton at Anfield and the youngest-ever side who secured a memorable win over Shrewsbury, the Reds’ youngsters have stood up to the plate.

And having progressed to the last 16 of the Premier League Cup with a 6-0 win over Sunderland on Monday, Critchley’s side are still competing in four competitions – two of which include games against sides outside of England.

With three of those now presenting a single chance to advance, Critchley is relishing the opportunity to further his players’ education in recovery and how to handle the pressure.

“We want to play as many games as we can that mean something,” he told the Liverpool Echo.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's Curtis Jones (C) and Leighton Clarkson (R) celebrate with Under-23 manager Neil Critchley (L) after the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“It was really important that we qualified for the knockout stages of this competition [the Premier League Cup].

“We have Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals of the International Cup, we have Benfica next week in the UEFA Youth League.

“We want these boys to have the pressure of playing must-win games and getting used to playing game after game where they have to recover and play again. It’s important for the group.”

Joe Hardy is a new member of the group having joined from Brentford in January but is one who has hit the ground running, notching seven goals in eight appearances for the U23s and making his debut in a late cameo in the win over Shrewsbury.

The 21-year-old has injected a clinical edge into the side which Critchley felt was lacking before the turn of the new year, providing a “nice balance” to a young lineup who are aiming to finish the season on a high.

“Joe has really added to the way we play because he is there to finish the moves off for us,” he continued. “He was someone we lacked in the first half of the season.

“Joe is a good finisher off both feet, as you saw against Sunderland. He is a proper goalscorer and is great for us.

“There’s a nice balance to the team, Liam [Millar] on one side, Harvey [Elliott] on the other. Then there’s Neco [Williams] and Tony [Gallacher] at full-back who can raid on the outside, and there was Adam [Lewis] as well.

“We have a good threat on the flanks and when you get the ball in the box into good areas, we have people like Joe now who can finish things off for us.”

The next opportunity to do so comes in the Premier League 2 clash with Blackburn on Friday evening, before the U19s take on Benfica in the UEFA Youth League on March 3.

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