It’s been an interesting first season at Liverpool. I started the year with a clear blueprint in mind for how I wanted to run the club and develop youth. I also had a clear vision at the start of the year of how I wanted the team to play and set up tactically. The blueprint is mostly intact, however our tactical outlook has [changed somewhat] which throws out some of my plans for youngsters in my youth squads.
But before we talk about the future, I want to look at how each of our age groups fared this season, highlighting some of the best players in each age group, and talking about who I feel has the brightest future, and who has played their way out of a future at the club.
Competing in four competitions of their own, while also providing players for my Under 23 squad, our Under 18s had a difficult year, but there were some real highlights along the way.
In the FA Youth Cup, we opened our season with a win against Manchester United on penalties, before knocking out Swansea, Charlton and Manchester City to set up a semi-final against Tottenham. However, the London club were the better team over two legs, as we crashed out 4-1 on aggregate.
The U18 Premier Division Cup was a similar story, as we eased through our group of Swansea, West Ham and Newcastle United unbeaten, before a 4-1 win over Everton in the quarter final. However, Stoke got the better of us in injury time to seal their final spot, and leave us once again without a trophy.
In the Under 19s Champions League, we were given the opportunity to test ourselves against the best in Europe, drawn into a group with Napoli, Spartak Moscow and Benfica. We came through the group unbeaten, facing Napoli once again in the knockout round. A 2-1 win there set up a quarter final against Monaco, but the French side were too strong, knocking us out in a 6-1 rout.
Over the course of the season, however, we were able to keep our eyes on the prize, staying in the hunt for the U18 Division 1 North all year, and losing only 3 games across the whole season. A 51-point haul and a goal difference of +37 saw us into the final, where we easily dispatched Chelsea 3-1 to take home the title.
There were a couple of players who really impressed me, with the future looking bright in all areas of the squad. Between the sticks, Daniel Unwin – a summer arrival from Coventry – kept 7 clean sheets in 23 games, despite conceding 24 goals. The 17 year old saved 71% of the shots he faced, marshalling the defence through some tricky games. I was so impressed by him that he was one of the youngsters given a Premier League debut in the last game of the season!
In defence, full-back Adam Lewis was the cream of the crop. The 18-year old Englishman has come on in leaps and bounds this year, and his steel nerve from the penalty spot saw him convert 100% of his 11 penalties, to go along with his 4 assists from left-back in 33 games. At 18, Adam may well be one of the players given the opportunity to impress at senior level next year, but if not, I feel he’ll do very well for our Under 23s.
In midfield, there were a few standout performers for me, however Norwegian Edvard Tasgeth seemed to be the man holding it all together for a large stretch of the season. With 7 goals 7 assists in 32 games, a pass completion rate of 80%, and 79% of tackles completed, the Norwegian was a powerhouse in our midfield.
There was only ever one player who I could have said stood out up front: 18 year old Rhian Brewster has recovered from a 2-month layoff with a Broken foot at the start of the season to have a monster year. In 16 Under 18 appearances, he netted 16 times and chipped in with 4 assists as well! Now 18, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brewster in and around the first team next season, especially if he can continue to work on his ability through the middle.
While our Under 18s had a reasonable season, our Under 23s struggled a bit more than I would have liked. In the U23 Premier Division Cup, we managed to squeak past Hull, Sheffield United and Bristol City in the groups, before beating Norwich 2-1 in the first knockout round. Sunderland proved to be too strong for us in the Quarter final, with a Kazenga LuaLua double cancelling out our early goal.
The U23 International Cup started well, with a 4-1 win over PSV followed by a 12-1 demolition of Sparta Prague. We then drew with Newcastle to round off the group stages, before Everton won in extra time to dump us out in the Quarter Finals.
Our League season was slightly better, as we battled to a 4th-placed finish, 8 points behind eventual winners Chelsea. There weren’t many players to shout about in our Under 23 ranks, however having scored 18 in 12 for our Under 18s, Ben Woodburn made the jump to Under-23 football on his 18th birthday, going on to score 15 goals in 28 appearances, and finish as the league’s top scorer on 9 goals.
I was also encouraged by right-sided midfielder Karim, who was having a storming season before a 3-month foot injury forced him out. The midfielder notched 4 goals and 4 assists in 11 games, with a momentous tackle success rate of 91% showing that he was willing to defend from the front. His physical attributes have taken a battering due to his injury, however I will have to make a decision soon on where i’m going to re-train the youngster to play, as my new system doesn’t use wingers at all.
Strange though it may seem, our youth squads might, on balance, have done better than our senior squad this season. A quarter final exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of West Ham was followed by A 6th Round defeat to Watford in the FA cup, ending our hopes of a domestic cup competition early. In Europe, we sailed through our Champions League group of Napoli, Spartak and Steaua Bucharest, before crashing out in a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Monaco.
In the league, we fared much better than our mid-season blip might have suggested. Between the start of the season and the end of January, we only lost once – a 1 goal defeat to Manchester United – before another 1-goal defeat to United on February the 2nd sparked a run of 5 matches without a win. I had a [Tactical Reshuffle] and we finished strong, unbeaten in our last 5 games to finish 3rd, only 9 points behind eventual winners Manchester United.
In typical Liverpool fashion, it was the draws which really held us back: a few more wins in those games and we would have been right in the mix. However, the important thing is that we’ve re-secured European football for next year, which gives us the best chance of retaining our stand-out performers, and attracting new talent.
(Senior Squad) Player of the Season – Mohamed Salah
(Senior Squad) Young Player of the Season – Trent Alexander-Arnold
Under 23 Player of the Season – Ben Woodburn
Under 18 Player of the Season – Elias Abouchabaka