Despite another goal from the fit-and-firing Layton Stewart, the Liverpool under-21s suffered a blow to their title hopes at Chelsea on Saturday.
Chelsea U21s 3-1 Liverpool U21s
Premier League 2, Kingsmeadow
March 11, 2023
Goals: Fofana 18′, Burstow 43′, Elliott 90+4′; Stewart 11′
The young Reds headed to Kingston upon Thames on a three-game unbeaten run that included back-to-back victories over Leicester (7-1) and Arsenal (1-0).
Manager Barry Lewtas was able to field a strong side, too, with Stewart making his first start since his senior bow at Derby in the Carabao Cup in November, having recovered from injury.
It was Stewart who opened the scoring in the 11th minute, rifling home after a horrible error from Chelsea goalkeeper Lucas Bergstrom.
But brilliant play from Chelsea and suspect marking from both Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio allowed the hosts to equalise soon after, with David Datro Fofana touching in from close range.
A vital intervention from Marcelo Pitaluga allowed Liverpool to counter as Dominic Corness released Ben Doak, but the winger’s bright burst was eventually cut out.
Chelsea made it 2-1 before the break, with the power of Fofana and a touch of luck allowing him to break through three challenges and feed the rapid Mason Burstow who finished well.
There were chances for Liverpool in the second half, namely for Bobby Clark whose attempt at diverting a Max Woltman cross was smothered by Bergstrom, but they were cut open on a number of occasions, too.
The hosts targeted a weak channel between Koumetio and left-back Owen Beck, with Burstow seeing a goal ruled out for offside while Dion Rankine hit the post, before Ben Elliott fired in the third through Pitaluga’s poor attempted save.
With defeat, Liverpool were unable to close the gap between them and league leaders Chelsea, who instead opened it to 10 points clear of the third-placed Reds.
Stewart can at least cling to a positive, however, with his third goal in as many games since returning to the fold last month.
Liverpool U21s: Pitaluga; Stephenson, Williams, Koumetio, Beck; Corness, Clark (Frauendorf 65′), Norris (Miles 65′); Doak, Woltman (Olufunwa 88′), Stewart (Musialowski 65′)
Subs not used: Kelly
Next match: Blackburn (A) – Premier League 2 – Saturday, March 18, 12pm (GMT)