Liverpool U21s 1-1 Benfica U21s
Premier League International Cup (2), AXA Training Centre
October 22, 2023
Goals: McConnell 34′; Cruz 29′
And Jurgen Klopp will have been watching this one from behind the sofa as tackles flew in on his first-team prospects.
Meanwhile, Klopp’s assistant, Pep Lijnders, was spectating in person, standing on the sidelines with Liverpool’s elite development coach, Vitor Matos.
After a 2-1 defeat to Monaco in their Group C opener, Liverpool could ill afford to lose this one.
With no UEFA Youth League to compete in this season, this competition has taken on more significance, hence the Reds fielding a strong side.
Jarell Quansah started at centre-back with James McConnell in holding midfield. They were both on the bench for the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Saturday, as was Calum Scanlon who played 45 minutes in the Kirkby sunshine.
Kaide Gordon made the bench for this one, having played just 16 minutes in the last 19 months.
The young right-winger has repeatedly been hampered by injuries since scoring for the first team in early 2022, but will hope to have put a recent ankle problem behind him.
There was no time to ease into the game on Sunday afternoon, with a couple of biting early tackles from Benfica setting the tone.
Liverpool certainly had the best of the possession before the break, but the visitors arguably created the better chances.
After 27 minutes, Benfica had a good penalty claim turned down but it was soon forgotten when, from at least 30 yards out, Filipe Cruz curled a stunning effort beyond Vitezslav Jaros, that nestled beautifully into the net.
A blow for Liverpool but there was no denying the excellence of the finish.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as McConnell nodded in from Mateusz Musialowski‘s outswinging corner just five minutes later.
The tension came to a climax shortly before half time when, waiting for a throw-in to be taken, Pedro Santos went down with a loud yelp while stood in front of Quansah.
Nobody but Gilson Tavares reacted. The tall midfielder proceeded to shove Quansah and was booked for laughing loudly after the referee deemed the Liverpool’s defender to have accidentally stood on Santos’ foot.
With 25 minutes left, Lewtas turned to Gordon for inspiration as 17-year-old Trent Kone-Doherty made way. The young winger from Derry is a bright prospect but struggled to get anything out of his Benfica marker on the day.
By the end of the second half, both teams were cancelling each other out. McConnell came off for Tommy Pilling and Liverpool were largely being controlled by Benfica.
Tackles continued to fly in and Gordon became embroiled in a tussle with the Benfica left-back, resulting in a melee before an injury-time Liverpool free-kick on the right.
Unfortunately, it was headed away by the first man and Liverpool had to settle for a point – probably a fair result given Benfica missed from six yards out in the dying moments.
Liverpool U21s: Jaros; Miles, Quansah (Jonas 46′), Nallo, Chambers (Scanlon 46′) ; McConnell (Pilling 81′), Hill; Kone-Doherty (Gordon 65′), Glatzel (Davidson 90′), Koumas; Musialowski
Subs not used: Kelly, Pinnington