It’s been another whirlwind season at Liverpool, with a fair number of young players making their mark in the first team, and at youth level as well. In the summer and January transfer window, I took a chance on shipping out a number of key players and some of the deadweight in the squad and that continued through the January transfer window too, when I moved to bring in Carles Alena from Barcelona for £4.9m, and Timo Werner for £52m from Leipzig.
Our Under 18s squad had a convincing League Campaign, losing just once (a 4-1 reverse at Manchester City) on their way to a penalty win against Arsenal in the Division 1 final. We added the Premier Division Cup to the Academy’s trophy room, beating Aston Villa in the final to complete a double. On a roll, we won out over Chelsea across two legs in the FA Youth Cup to complete a domestic treble!
Our European adventure was less successful, as we crashed out of a group containing Slavia Prague, Napoli and Real Madrid, managing just two wins in the process. Despite the obvious disappointment in Europe, I think we’re starting to build a really decent core in our Academy system, and moving forward the plan for that youth system is becoming more clear; By filtering the riff-raff out of the youth intakes, we’re able to spend more time with each individual in training, and it’s paying dividends.
In the league, our Under 23s finished a solid 3rd – just 7 points off of league winners Chelsea. With 7 defeats, there’s definite potential for improvement in the coming season, and i’m hoping that spending more time considering how we line up and develop our Under 23s will pay off moving forwards.
Despite our reasonable league form, we crashed out of the Premier Division Cup in the first knockout round following a 3-2 loss to Stoke. In the Checkatrade trophy, however, we absolutely redeemed ourselves, winning some absolute epics on the way to a 3-1 final win over Chelsea to bring home at least one trophy this season. Its just as well, because our showing in the Under 23 International Cup was nothing short of a shambles, as we failed to win a single group game.
Overall, I’m very aware that our Under 23s are a proving ground for our youngsters, and there’s often a large number of players out on loan, which means that we sometimes don’t have the depth we need for a busy season. However, keeping the squad relatively thin means that we can give the players attention in training, while also giving the best of our Under 18s the chance to prove themselves at a higher level.
Having crashed out of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup early this year, we had to make the most of our league and European competition to be able to count this season as a success.
And that’s exactly what we did! With only three defeats in the league, we managed to snag top spot, beating Manchester United 5-1 at Old Trafford to seal the deal with a game to spare. One of the most unexpected stars of our league campaign was former Ajax youngster Kasper Dolberg, who netted an unprecedented 17 goals in 22 league games, finishing the year as the 3rd highest goalscorer in the league. There’s not much i’d change from our league campaign, however I am acutely aware that the level of success we’re enjoying domestically just now is going to make it more difficult to bleed our next generation moving forwards.
In Europe, we enjoyed an incredible season, losing just once on our way to the Champions League Final, in which a Mohamed Salah goal was the difference between us and a strong Bayern Munich side, as we brought Old Big Ears back to Anfield for the 6th time!
Overall, it’s been a pretty successful season, however i’m conscious that we’re now going to be expected to continue in the same vein. I’m going to have to look at my recruitment and development quite closely over the next few months, and maybe over the next season, in order to establish a succession from U18 right through to the first team. I think we’re doing well in terms of getting youngsters to a level where they can feature for the first team, however finding space for them in the squad has been proving difficult…but i’ll bore you all with that another time.