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Liverpool serve up “great experience” for youngsters – but focus straight to Man United

Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Union SG was no disaster by any means, but it was hard to find too many redeeming features after the final whistle.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men knew they were already into the Europa League knockout rounds as group winners before kickoff, and in truth, it showed.

A young Liverpool side never looked at full tilt in Belgium, and their opponents were worthy winners in the end, having gone in at half-time 2-1 up.

Here’s how the media reacted to the Reds’ defeat.

 

This wasn’t a result that required an overreaction…

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher looks dejected as Union SG score the opening goal during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This Is Anfield‘s David Lynch made it clear that this was no disaster, given the nature of the team:

“No Liverpool side will ever come off a pitch accepting a defeat, but some are far easier to take than others, and this one clearly fits that bill.

“The fact is, you were never likely to see a brilliant performance from the club’s youngest-ever starting XI in a European match (22 years and 156 days), particularly when their more experienced opponents had everything to play for.

“That’s before factoring in what was also a pretty poor pitch.

“Ultimately, this game will be viewed as an important learning experience for a number of academy prospects and a big chance to rest several weary first-teamers.

“Reading too much into the efforts of those young players or the senior stars simply trying to get them through the game is not advisable.”

On X, James Pearce remained similarly laid-back and positive, despite the defeat:

“A youthful Liverpool lineup beaten in Brussels but it really doesn’t matter.

“Top spot in the group already secured. Great experience for the kids. Thankfully, no injuries. Plenty of senior stars got a rest.

“Now all about preparing to face United on Sunday.”

On X, Lewis Steele felt it was important to focus on Liverpool’s youth system excelling:

The Athletic‘s Gregg Evans did admit that some inexperienced players struggled, though:

Conor Bradley, the 20-year-old right-back looked troubled early on and things were not much better for Luke Chambers, 19, as the other full-back.

“Both were left exposed and rarely threatened going forward. That Kaide Gordon, 19, and Ben Doak, 18, both started in wide attacking areas also played a part.

“A lack of experience on both flanks was clearly tempting to their opponents, and both their goals came via clever play down the wings, where they found plenty of space.

“Meanwhile, goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher maybe could have done better with a one-on-one for the first goal and was beaten at his near post for what proved the decisive second.”

 

Now it’s all about Man United on Sunday…

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds the supporters after the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph felt some focus may have been on the crucial clash at Anfield:

“As they trod carefully around a cabbage patch pitch, there was an inescapable sense of the minds of the most experienced being on Sunday too, especially when the more encouraging passing movements ended with the loss of a 50-50 tackle.

“The youngsters, meanwhile, played with enthusiasm with the ball and with a certain naivety without it, vulnerable to counter-attacking.

[…]

“Despite the surprising introduction of Darwin Nunez in the second half, Liverpool could not muster an equaliser. Now they can shift attention to United, if it was not there already.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Thursday, December 14, 2023: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 6 game between Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Liverpool FC at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Lynch felt that some of Klopp’s substitutions hinted at what Sunday’s starting XI could be:

“If the half-time withdrawals of Endo and Konate can be taken as confirmation that they will both start on Sunday, then what else can be gleaned from Klopp’s use of his squad here?

“Well, the German is unlikely to want the side he selects to face Man United to be leggy, and so surely won’t go with players who featured for the majority of the 90 minutes here.

“With that in mind, it feels instructive that Curtis Jones featured for the entirety of the game while Ryan Gravenberch appeared only in the second half.

“And similar can be said of Cody Gakpo‘s use from the start up top in comparison to Darwin Nunez emerging from the bench late in the game.

“Only Gakpo, Jones, Elliott, Quansah and Conor Bradley played the 90, so you can rule them out of starting on Sunday.

“With four starters left at home in Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alisson Becker, the starting XI for the weekend already seems pretty clear.”

Writing for the Daily Mail, Steele claimed Liverpool look primed to comprehensively beat their biggest rivals:

Jurgen Klopp was afforded the luxury of this Europa League jaunt to Brussels being a meaningless match, with his side already qualified for the round of 16, and therefore left Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker on Merseyside.

“Many other pivotal figures, such as Dominik Szoboszlai, Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz spent most of the night sitting on the substitutes’ bench wearing a puffer jacket, hat and snood.

“It’s just another argument to add to the list for why Liverpool are so fancied to thrash United on Sunday.”