In Times of Despair, The Academy Brings Hope
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After another damaging defeat at Hull City yesterday, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are now five league games without a win (3D, 2L) and a turn in form is now vital if the First Team want to be playing Champions League football next season. However, all is not lost for Liverpool, as Neil Critchley’s U18’s show.
The Liverpool youngsters are currently third in the North Division of the U18 Premier League and look to be heading into Group 1 to fight for the title along with probably both Manchester clubs and Blackburn Rovers from the North Division and Chelsea, Reading, West Ham and Arsenal from the Southern Division; although this could change as the first stage of the season still has one month to go.
The Liverpool set-up includes highly-thought of youngsters like Yan Dhanda and Bobby Adekanye, while some of Critchley’s team, such as 17-year-old striker Rhian Brewster and 18-year-old ‘keeper Caoimhin Kelleher, have already began making the step up to the U23s. The difficulty for Critchley is the high turnover of players in his squad, with the squad being different every single week as some of his players get called into the U23s, however, the former midfielder has dealt with this problem to lead his side to (as of 04/02/17) a thirteen-match unbeaten run in the league – a run that stretches back to October 1st.
The Reds have three league games before the 24 clubs are split into three groups of eight to decide who will win the title and Critchley will be hoping that his Liverpool side can pick up at least six points from that nine; they play the bottom two sides (Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers) over the next fortnight before hosting run-away league leaders Manchester City in their final North Division game the first Saturday in March. The City game will be a big test for the Reds as they have already been beaten by Lee Carsley’s Blues twice this season, 7-0 in the reverse league fixture in August followed by a 3-1 FA Youth Cup 4th Round defeat last month.
The clear improvement in the results against the best team in the Division shows a significant improvement from Critchley’s side, and he will feel that his side will go into the re-structuring of the league in a month’s time with a very good chance of challenging for the title. This chance will be boosted by the recent addition to the coaching staff of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard who began his new role within the Liverpool Academy last week and was present on the touchline for Saturday’s 2-2 draw with West Brom’s U18s at the Kirby Academy.
The U23s aren’t doing too badly either; Mike Garrity’s team made the semi-finals of the Lancashire Senior Cup this week with a 3-1 win over Bolton Wanderers and have only lost one of their last six matches in all competitions. Garrity’s side are third in Division 1 of Premier League 2 and could go within two points of second place by making the most of their games in hand, and have all-but secured their place in the Last 16 of the Premier League Cup after picking up ten points from their four group games so far.
19-year-old winger Harry Wilson is making a big name for him in the Liverpool U23 side, having been named captain at the start of the season and contributing seven goals thus far – putting him joint-fifth in the league charts, not bad for a winger! Wilson has been with the Reds since the age of 9 and signed his first professional contract two-and-a-half years ago.
Wilson’s chances with the First Team have been none-existent, possibly because of the huge talents the First Team has in his position, and as such the Welshman spent the second half of 2015 on loan at Crewe Alexandra. The U23 captain made his First Team debut in the 1-0 win over Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay last month, and I’m sure over the next few years he will make many more.
So while the First Team may be stuttering and succumbing to the pressure of life at the top of the table, rest easy Liverpool fans as the U23s and U18s are both flying in their respective leagues and will have plenty of experience of fighting for titles when their time comes in the First Team.