ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, August 31, 2021: Liverpool's Elijah Dixon-Bonner (R) and Rochdale's Conor Grant during the English Football League Trophy match between Rochdale AFC and Liverpool FC Under-21's at Spotland Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Valuable experience for 9 teenagers, but heavy defeat for young Reds

Liverpool under-21s were dealt a harsh footballing lesson as they were beaten 4-0 despite an impressive showing against League Two side Rochdale in the Papa John’s Trophy.

Rochdale 4-0 Liverpool U21s

EFL Trophy (1), Spotland
August 31, 2021

Goals: Kelly 33′, O’Keefe pen 50′ & 72′, Andrews 78′

Barry Lewtas’ youngsters started off brightly at Spotland, despite the contrasting experience both sides were able to call upon.

For Liverpool, this is a competition that Alex Inglethorpe, the Reds’ academy manager, was persuaded to enter just a few years ago after initially refusing to join the maiden season where Premier League clubs were able to enter their youth sides.

And whilst Lewtas was forced to field a side without some of his more familiar academy stars, with Kaide Gordon, Owen Beck, Conor Bradley and co. on international duty, there were plenty of young Reds who impressed on the night.

Indeed, it was the inexperienced away side who took early control of the opening Group D fixture. Marshalled at the back by Billy Koumetio and captain Tom Clayton, Liverpool penned Rochdale into their own half for large periods of the opening exchanges.

Lewtas’ side were forced into an early change when Fidel O’Rourke picked up an early knock, forcing him to make way for Mateusz Musialowski.

And it was the introduction of the graceful Pole that gave the Reds that much-needed zest into their attacking play, as he dipped and swerved past numerous blue shirts once receiving the ball in the cleverly worked half-spaces of the Rochdale defence.

Jack Bearne had the game’s first real chance after he took the ball cleanly on the turn, skinning past his senior defensive opponent, before failing to force Dale goalkeeper Joel Coleman into action with his miss-hit effort.

However, against the rhythm of the game, Rochdale punished Lewtas’ men with a fantastic 25-yard effort from Liam Kelly, which expunged the Reds’ bright start.

ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, August 31, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Harvey Davies looks dejected as Rochdale score a third goal during the English Football League Trophy match between Rochdale AFC and Liverpool FC Under-21's at Spotland Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Soon after the restart, the deficit was doubled when Corey O’Keefe grabbed his first of the evening when he sent Harvey Davies the wrong way from 12-yards after debutant Luke Chambers was harshly ruled to have upended the subsequent penalty taker inside the box.

A few hopeful long-range efforts from Musialowski appeared to be the away side’s only way back into the game.

However, the competitiveness of the tie was only to last a few more moments until the game was finally put out of Liverpool’s reach when O’Keefe added his second and Rochdale’s third, with a thunderous strike inside the box, before Josh Andrews completed the thrashing.

Liverpool U21s: H.Davies; Wilson, Clayton, Koumetio, Chambers; Ritaccio (Stephenson 68′), Morton; Bearne, Dixon-Bonner, Woltman (Miles 82′); O’Rourke (Musialowski 16′)

Subs not used: Kelly, McConnell

Next match: Tottenham (A) – Premier League 2 – Saturday, September 11, 3pm (BST)


Who stood out for Liverpool?

ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, August 31, 2021: Liverpool's Jack Bearne (L) and Rochdale's Max Taylor during the English Football League Trophy match between Rochdale AFC and Liverpool FC Under-21's at Spotland Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jack Bearne

Arguably Liverpool’s brightest prospect on the night, Bearne proved to be a constant thorn in the side of Rochdale, despite his inexperience.

Having started the Premier League 2 season opener in the stalemate against Man City earlier this month, Bearne found himself demoted to the bench for last week’s mini-derby due to the emergence of Kaide Gordon.

Operating off the right-hand side of the supporting cast to O’Rourke, but mainly Musialowski, Bearne’s movement infield resulted in constant struggles for the League Two outfit.

Handed the game’s first chance, despite the finish being poor, Lewtas and Co will still take strong encouragement from the Nottingham-born forward’s spatial awareness and technical ability to single-handedly carve out the opening.

Bearne featured predominantly for the under-23s last season and will be looking to improve on his return of three league goals during this campaign.


Tom Clayton

SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND - Monday, August 23, 2021: Liverpool's captain Tom Clayton (L) during the Premier League 2 Division 1 match between Everton FC Under-23's and Liverpool FC Under-23's, the Mini-Merseyside Derby, at Haig Avenue. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Liverpool captain marshalled his teammates accordingly in another impressive personal display from the Scotsman.

Perhaps not initially in Lewtas’ plans for this game due to his invitation to Scotland U21s’ European Championship camp. However, Covid-19 quarantine rules meant the central defender had to politely decline his invitation.

Clayton made his presence felt all night, with his old-school, no-nonsense approach to defending.

“A senior head on young shoulders” is how he was described by commentator Steve Hunter before the game and it’s clear to see why he is so highly thought of around Kirkby, due to his impressive ability to play pick out a pass but also recognise imminent danger around his and Harvey Davies’ goal.

Partnered alongside Liverpool’s youngest ever Champions League debutant in Billy Koumetio, Clayton had no issues in, again, stepping up taking responsibility of the backline and surely it won’t be long before he is recognised by Jurgen Klopp and the senior Anfield coaches.


Tyler Morton

ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, August 31, 2021: Liverpool's Tyler Morton (R) is challenged by Rochdale's Conor Grant during the English Football League Trophy match between Rochdale AFC and Liverpool FC Under-21's at Spotland Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Tyler Morton will be a name that some Liverpool fans will recognise due to his involvement in Klopp’s 34-man squad that jetted over to Austria and France for pre-season training.

Besides, it’s clear to see why Klopp and Pep Lijnders seem to be so impressed with Kirkby’s latest midfield general.

Boasting an extensive passing range from deep, Morton was a persistent figure in the early exchanges of the game as his side enjoyed a dominant spell on the ball.

Although the young Reds failed to make Rochdale pay with their possession, and get the goal they so desperately deserved, Morton was able to demonstrate his impressive build and athleticism as he and Elijah Dixon-Bonner aimed to control the game from deep.

Despite the disappointing defeat, Morton will be one of those who benefit from the young Reds’ time in the Papa John’s Trophy as he is able to test himself against opposition unfamiliar to many Premier League 2 players.