James Balagizi made his return from a four-month injury as Liverpool under-21s clinched second in the league with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace.
Crystal Palace U21s 0-1 Liverpool U21s
Premier League 2, Crystal Palace Training Ground
May 6, 2023
Goal: McConnell 60′
It has been a rollercoaster campaign for Balagizi, the 19-year-old midfielder, who thrived on loan at Crawley before two successive injuries saw his deal cut short.
He returned to Merseyside in January – after three goals and an assist in 16 games for the League Two club – undergoing treatment as he set his sights on a productive season next time out.
Progress off the field then allowed Balagizi to take a spot on the bench as Liverpool U21s finished the campaign with a trip to Palace on Saturday.
Knowing a point would secure second place behind champions Man City, the young Reds went one better as James McConnell’s goal off the bench earned all three.
It was a dominant performance from Barry Lewtas‘ side, who were without Ben Doak due to illness.
McConnell’s introduction came early in the first half due to an injury to centre-back Lee Jonas, forcing midfielder Luca Stephenson to take his place in defence – the teenager pulling off an accomplished display.
Victory in Kent made it three in a row to round off the season, with Liverpool finishing with the league’s best defensive record.
The young Reds shipped just 29 goals in their 26 games, keeping 10 clean sheets along the way – goalkeeper Harvey Davies contributed seven of those shutouts in 16 outings.
Layton Stewart, with 11, finished as Liverpool’s top scorer, with James Norris laying on the most assists with seven.
For much of Lewtas’ squad, the summer brings a well-deserved break before preparations for the new campaign begin in late June.
For some, that could see chances at first-team level – with Balagizi among those who could be called up to the senior setup for pre-season – while others could set their sights on loan moves.
Liverpool U21s: Davies; Miles, Jonas (McConnell 30′), Koumetio, Beck; Corness, Stephenson, Norris; Frauendorf (Hill 67′), Woltman (Balagizi 82′), Stewart
Subs not used: Hughes