02/03/2021|17:00 |PRENTON PARK|UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE
Crashing out of last years edition in calamitous fashion, an U-19 Liverpool side turn their attention to the reshaped, annual footballing showcase of the Uefa Youth League. Marseille will cross the English Channel in March, to face a Liverpool side engulfed in excitement and hyperbole. And rightly so. This is perhaps Liverpool’s most talented collection of youngsters, for a long time. Let’s look at both sides.
- 64 teams will compete in 32 one-legged knockout tie.
- 40 players can be registered in a single squad. All players must be born after January 1st 2002 with the allowance of 5 players born between the 1st January 2001 and the 31st December 2001. However, any of the additional 5 players must have spent at least 2 years with the club.
- Players will also be ineligible if they feature in the Champions League proper more than 3 times in the current season.
LIVERPOOL: THE TALKING POINTS
As success is achieved at the top, it is the underbelly of the club that is quietly stirring up a concoction of interest and enthusiasm. The roots of foundation that Liverpool have built success on are slowly growing, ready to crack through what was once an impenetrable path. Rife with talent, there are plenty of reasons to be excited by a stacked Liverpool team.
A finely struck balance between local, national and global talent; An amalgamation of culture and diversity has versed as one ferocious unit. While always looking to add the most talented players around, recent history indicates that proceedings have ramped up, a consequence of Brexit making signing the worlds finest a lot harder. In the past 12 months, the list of players added to the academy has grown, seeing The Reds add Mateusz Musialowski(03), Melkamu Frauendorf(04), Marcelo Pitaluga(02), and Stefan Bajcetic(04). An added difficulty to signing European players has not deterred the reds from English talent, either, with Callum Scanlon(05) and most notable of all, recent addition Kaide Gordon(04) joining the ranks. All players who have had numerous offers from Europe’s elite clubs, but have decided to unite and add to Liverpool’s well thought of local talent, like scousers, Tyler Morton(02) and Layton Stewart(02)
With the likelihood that Barry Lewtas will take charge of the young reds, one can be sure to see the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 in some variation, that is deployed throughout the academy all the way up to the first team.
CENTRE BACK PARTNERSHIP
The centre of defence provides debate. Rhy’s William’s loses eligibility having played 3 times for the senior team in the Champions League with Sepp Van Denn Berg departing for Preston. Meaning it is almost certain that Billy Koumetio(02) will get the call in the centre of defence. ‘Billy The Kid’ as he is affectionately named by Klopp, splits opinions of fans. While he clearly has the raw ingredients of a modern centre back, with a strong upright frame and the technique that allows him to cut through the pitch with lovely raking passes, it is often a lapse in concentration that can see the Frenchman fall to pieces. At times he looks like he is ready to play first team football, others, one can tell he is a former winger. He is well thought of within the club though, having recently being promoted to the U23 and working the Lewtas regularly.
Koumetio’s partner isn’t as obvious. Ball-playing defender, Jarrel Quansah(03) has the edge. The England U18 international has been apart of the youth set-up since he was 7. Quansah, who can also play at right-back, has marshalled the defence alongside Koumetio before in the U18s, potentially giving him the edge. However, one cannot discount the inclusion of Stefan Bajcetic who was brought in at the end of December. The clubs rush and desperation to close the deal before the looming Brexit deadline, beating Manchester United in the process, is indicative of the young Spaniard’s talent. Arriving from Celta Vigo, Bajcetic’s is only now beginning to shake of an injury that delayed any appearance for the U18’s. With enough chance to showcase his talent, the battle between himself and Quansah will certainly be competitive. Terrence McLaughlin-Miles and Luke Chambers(04) may find himself further down the pecking order, but sure to named in Liverpool’s 40 man squad.
The excitement that arrives with Kaide Gordon cannot be understated. Gordon, who Wayne Rooney claimed was one of the ‘best trainers’ amongst the Derby senior team, will go straight in to the U23 side at the age of 16. A step up not unbeknown, as the prodigious talent found himself in the first team without ever playing u23 football. Arriving with senior football under his belt, Gordon is dubbed ‘the most talented 16 year old in the country’. Gordon is adept everywhere across the front 3, but in reference to the entire team he is perhaps best used as a right winger. In the future, we may even see Gordon utilised deeper on the pitch, with one of his best attributes undoubtedly being his vision and creativity. Fidel O’rouke(02) is a great presser of the ball, but it is Layton Stewart(02) that will benefit more from Gordon’s presence, being more of a pure penalty box striker. A potential partnership is mouth watering. In fact, a front 3 of Musialowski – Stewart – Gordon would be artistry.
The left flank certain to be manned by one of Liverpool’s most in form talents throughout the academy, Musialowki and Luis Longstaff(01) a potential additional player. While the right flank to be occupied by Frauendorf or Gordon it is deciding on the man wedged in between them that gives Lewtas a headache. With both strikers still eligible to play U18 football, O’rourke and Stewart clearly bring different attributes to the table. O’rourke will run the channels all game, and drop deeper link with the midfielders while Stewart, also a good presser of the ball will use his intelligence to find vacated space in the box with more edge to his finishing. O’rourke has been given the nod for the U23’s as of late, with Stewart staying with the 18’s. We may see league and European minutes split between the two. Perhaps with O’Rourke being more physically adept, he will be left to handle the older age group while Stewarts more cultured style of play will suit the European opposition. One to watch out for.
A potential Liverpool line up. A blend between what I would like to see, and what I think Lewtas will do. There will be a big question mark around the inclusion of Melkamu Frauendorf, a massive talent, who has yet to nail down a position of his own with plenty of time on his side.
James Balagizi(03) is also not long back from injury. Being prised away from the Manchester City academy at the age of 11, Balagizi can play as part of the front three, while also further back in the midfield. One of the brightest prospects in England, and Jude Bellingham’s former midfield partner, it will be good to see him back in the fold with hopes he can reignite his partnership he and Musialowski had.
Liverpool are also well stocked in eligible midfielders. With the likes of Balagizi, Morton, Clarkson(01), Cain(01), Woltmon(03), Corness(03) and Mabaya(04) vying for three spots. Will Lewtas opt for the more experienced Jake Cain? Or add an edge in the final third with the very highly thought of James Balagizi. A good problem to have.
MARSEILLE: WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT
Speaking to Marseille fans, it is apparent that they are not renowned for producing talent. They do currently have two products that feature regularly in the first team squad. Lucas Perrin, albeit a regular amongst the substitutes and Boubacar Kamara, join the likes of Mehdi Benatia and Jordan Ayew as notable Marseille products. It is infamous drip doctor customer Samir Nasri that is the biggest success though, a supremely talented player the French club can be proud to produce. However, were recently outraged however, as they allowed mercurial academy product Isaac Lihadji joing rivals Lille. Much is expected of the winger.
Liverpool are likely to be matched in their usage of 4-3-3 with the French side seemingly adopting the formation from the little information I could find. A formation that provides balance in attack and defence is popular at youth football, with the outcome geared towards player development rather than using systems to win football matches.
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Tongya arrived at the Les Phoceens as early as this January in a swap deal that saw winger, Marley Ake move in opposite directions to Juventus. The attacking midfielder’s name comes with a fair reputation, with many Juventus fans upset at the loss another youth prospect, many putting the blame at the feet of Tongya’s agent, the infamous Mino Riola.
Tongya skips the U19 phase, and slots straight in to the B team, immediately becoming the French clubs most exciting prospect. What stands out about Tongya is that he is technically clean in all of his actions. Not in the sense that he has a bag full of tricks, but he always makes meaningful contact with the ball in both his shots, but particularly his passing. Rarely selling anybody short, Tongya has a short passing game that is supplemented by a high tempo, and ability to identify space which mean’s he’ll often opt for a one-two in order to create himself space.
While not at the top end of the speed chart, Tongya is quick enough and accelerates well to get past players in short bursts, being particularly adepts in being able to shift his body weight to trick players, which he also uses well to change direction when running. His penchant for driving from deep, and being athletically adept enough to get back means that while he does achieve his goal of winning the ball back at times, he can give away freekicks with a tendency to dive in. He is sure to be someone that Clarkson and co. will have to keep an eye on.
Quite obviously French by name, and also French by nature as Ugo Bertelli joins the list of talented French midfielders with mounds of potential. Bertelli signed his first professional contract at 16, and has been training with the first team sporadically since he was just 15. Interestingly, as I type this, Bertelli has been named in his first match day squad for the senior team at just 17 years of age to play Lens. A huge talent.
Bertelli occupies the centre of midfield. While not standing at the tallest, Bertelli will not be hesitant to involve himself with any duels of the Liverpool midfield, having always played up an age group throughout his career so far. Bertelli is technically sound, with a penchant for long range efforts that he often hits well. It is probably the midfield that is Marseille strongest area of the pitch, with a lot of physicality and technical prowess, meaning the likes of Morton, Clarkson and co. will have to be on top form.
Soaure joins Bertelli in being called up to the senior team for the first time against Lens. Souare is no secret around mainland Europe with a number of clubs approaching the Frenchmen, most incandescently, Schalke. Souare hails from the respected Istres academy.
The Frenchmen, who is also able to represent Guinea, is a box-to-box midfielder with a bit of bite about him, strong in the duel he can contribute to both phases of play. Souare is often seen winning the ball back for his side before driving up the pitch after receiving the ball on the half-turn. Soaure is often found to be the deepest midfielder in his Marseille teams, giving him the chance to orchestrate attacks and set the tempo. However, Soaure will often try too much in his passing when it is unneeded, leading to giving the ball away in dangerous positions.
"He is steeped in talent," said Nasser Larguet about him. "When we took him to training with André Villas-Boas, his first instinct was to say that he had a very good foot. He deserves his professional contract but he must mature in effort. "
While the aforementioned gain the most clamour, other players will be sure to cause Liverpool a headache throughout the proceedings at Prenton Park. Tom Moustier(02), is a cultured midfielder that FC Porto have tried to sign as recently as last Summer; a club with an eye for talent. Another name to keep an eye on is forward Jores Rahou(03), a versatile attacker that has caught the eye of Leicester and Bayer Leverkusen. Rahou is also deadly from a dead ball situation.
While Liverpool should win the game, perhaps even with relative comfort, a physical Marseille side, a number of whom have first team experience, will cause Liverpool problems and will do their best to cause an upset. But I wouldn’t bet against Lewtas’ men against the majority of sides in the competition.