James Norris is relishing the opportunity to welcome more top European opposition to Merseyside as the Liverpool under-19s resume their quest for the UEFA Youth League.
Liverpool U19s vs. Genk U19s
UEFA Youth League Last 16, Kirkby
March 2, 2022
2pm kickoff (GMT)
The young Reds rather impressively qualified from the group stage prior to Christmas when they defeated AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Porto to seal the top spot in Group B.
That handed them a bye from the first knockout round and straight into the round of 16, where on Wednesday they will take on Belgian side Genk.
On the contrary, Genk are involved in this season’s edition of the UEFA Youth League via the domestic champions path, after their success during the 2019/20 season was backdated as a result of the pandemic preventing them from featuring in Europe last season.
So far, they have claimed emphatic aggregate triumphs over German side FC Koln (7-3) and MTK Budapest (3-1) before dispatching Chelsea 5-1 in the play-off round last month at the KRC Genk Arena.
But despite already accumulating a spectacular list of scalps in the competition thus far, Norris says he and his Liverpool team-mates are taking nothing for granted ahead of Wednesday’s tie.
“We go into every competition wanting to win it, but we’re taking it game by game at the moment,” the versatile youngster told This Is Anfield.
“It’s a good test to see where we are at under-19s because we will be playing against the best of the best. Especially now we’re through the group stages, it’s only going to get harder.
“It’s going to be a great test for us and I’m sure it will be a good test for Genk as well.”
Just like the ties against sides from Spain and Italy, Genk will present a completely different test for the young Reds compared to their usual domestic commitments, as they will once again come up against unfamiliar tactics, styles and personnel from across the continent.
These experiences will only bolster the skillset of all those involved, according to the 18-year-old from West Derby.
“To be fair, I’d say it’s different,” Norris explained.
“Under-23s is more like a men’s game, but with the Youth League, it’s playing against different styles and teams you wouldn’t play against domestically.
“For example, when we went to Atletico Madrid away and they beat us 2-0 – deservedly I’d say – they played a different style. They took the ball off us and played with it.
“But we learnt a lot from that because when we came back home [for the reverse fixture] we beat them 2-0 and we did the same to them. It’s a good test for the lads and it gives us a marker of where we are in our career with the U19s.”
After Covid-19 scuppered the UEFA Youth League all together last season, Liverpool will have their eyes firmly set on the final in Nyon at the end of April – as they look to make up for lost time on the continental stage and get their hands on the trophy for the first time, at their fifth attempt.
The knockout ties will all be decided as a single-leg fixture, with the winner of Wednesday’s clash at Kirkby facing either Juventus or AZ Alkmaar in the quarter-finals.
After that, the semi-finals and final will be held over a five-day period at UEFA’s base in Nyon, Switzerland, with the final taking place on April 25.
Liverpool vs. Genk in the UEFA Youth League is live on BT Sport 1. Coverage starts 2pm.