Liverpool under-23s manager Barry Lewtas has praised Vitor Matos for his role as bridge between first team and academy, helping three more players make the step up.
Matos joined the Reds last October, filling a crucial role at the club, last occupied by Pepijn Lijnders prior to his promotion as one of Jurgen Klopp‘s assistants.
The Portuguese was influential in the rise of Neco Williams, who is now considered a regular at senior level, and has maintained a strong link between Klopp and Liverpool’s finest young talents.
That has been seen with the involvement of Billy Koumetio since the start of pre-season, with the Frenchman largely turning out for the under-18s last term, but now viewed as a viable option to cover for the likes of Virgil van Dijk.
And in assessing the work Matos has done in aiding the progress of his young players, Lewtas noted Koumetio along with Layton Stewart and Tom Hill as being made “ready” for U23s level, despite all three still being eligible for the U18s.
“The relationship with Melwood is fantastic and obviously Vitor is the direct link,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
He added: “Obviously things are a little bit different at the moment because of the virus, so we can’t be going from site to site all the time.
“The communication is still there, just obviously in different ways.
“Now, it’s just more phone conversations and so on and so forth, so it has been great.
“Player-wise, I’d hope, certainly over last year, that some of the boys that moved up with Critch were quite ready to play 23s. So Tom Hill, Layton Stewart, Billy Koumetio, we do work quite close together.
“And the principles that we have at the club and as an academy, we try to get them into the lads, so from that point of view, it’s quite similar.”
Koumetio is the obvious standout from that group, having graduated into regular first-team training at Melwood, but it is notable how often Stewart and Hill are mentioned as part of the next generation.
Back in June, Jamie Carragher explained that the club have “high hopes for” Stewart, Hill and left-back James Norris, while in an interview with Goal in May, Lewtas highlighted the trio along with James Balagizi as ones to watch.
The progress of coaches through the youth ranks, with Lewtas taking over from Neil Critchley and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson stepping up from the under-16s to take his place as U18s manager, will aid these prospects as they work their way up.
But the involvement of Matos over the past 11 months has improved this significantly, as now there is a closer relationship between the academy and Klopp’s first team again.
It would be no surprise, therefore, if the likes of Hill, Norris, Stewart and Balagizi are involved at Melwood frequently throughout 2020/21, as they are talents those inside the club have earmarked for success.