09/02/2021|14:00|Clayton Wood|Light Snow
Liverpool Football Club’s U18s are not the best team to play after a month out of action, with the dejection of a 7-1 loss to Sunderland weighing mindfully in the meantime, but in a game that was as arduous to watch as it was to play in, a Stoke City side showed no signs of frostbite. A hard fought fixture rearranged from earlier in the season, weathered lightly by snow, would be decided by an ice cold finish
Layton Stewart, the leagues top scorer, regularly finds himself flitting between the U18 and U23’s with it looking like this weeks priorities lying with the latter. A notable absence indeed, with Liverpool using Musialowski up front hoping to curtail any bluntness.
Two debutants in the Liverpool side, with Fabian Mrozek making his first start in the Liverpool net with injury to Balagizi and Luca Stephenson in addition to Tyler Morton’s promotion, giving James McConnell a chance to impress in the middle of the park in his first appearance at U18 level. Musialowski was undeterred by playing in an unfamiliar role, taking up the central striking position wedged in-between Woltman and Cannonier.
A freezing, snowy, Tuesday afternoon at Stoke is apparently not to dissimilar to a cold rainy Wednesday night. A stodgy pitch dotted with physical battles, and a set piece Stoke goal.
A Liverpool U18 side that is filled with talent, particularly in the attacking areas, would learn a lot about themselves in a game that highlighted the opposite side of their game
A resolute Stoke side was determined on making life as difficult as possible for the highest scorers in the league, pressing high for the first 5 minutes of the game without giving up an inch of ground. The result was a number of scrappy duels in the middle of the park with neither side threatening in either final third.
16 year old Isaac Mabaya, started the game exceptionally well; The Stoke midfield could not touch him. Several drives through the pitch, some meaningful passes to the final third and one particularly slick touch that drew a Stoke foul was about as lively as the opening 15 minutes got. Nevertheless, overall, Liverpool threatened little. This was the story of his game, nearly capping a fine performance with what would’ve been a fine goal. Mabaya’s finish at the end of a breath taking transition was superbly denied by Cooper late in the game. What was equally as impressive about Mabaya’s performance was not his willingness to attack, but his willingness to stay back when other midfielders are left forward in order make a compact midfield. A sign of maturity and positional discipline.
Stoke would retreat deeper with Liverpool’s quality to play out of the press, but stayed stubborn. Jarrel Quansah regularly tried to unsettle Stoke’s shape with playing balls through the lines with little success as Stoke had the centre zone of the pitch locked down. Quansah, who last week signed his first professional contract with the club, used his aerially ability to guard the backline out of a number of tricky situations, at one pointing winning 3 headers in the space of 4 seconds, as Stoke tested Liverpool’s resolve.
Left back, James Norris and right back, Wilson would see a lot of the ball and commit to a lot of industrious running attempting to create an opening with a number of threatening crosses proving hopeful at best.
Liverpool finally found the break-through halfway in to the first half as Oakley Cannonier found a pocket of space on the right hand side of the pitch, fizzing a shot towards goal that Stoke City ‘Keeper, Cooper, could not contain. A hashed clearance met the right boot of debutant, McConnell on the edge of the box, and a volley was rifled in to the bottom left corner. Unfortunately, the lead was short lived as Stoke centreback and captai, Nixon, headed home from a freekick that was swung in to the box, looping to the side of Mrozek. Classic Stoke.
Although, the flurry of activity meant the game was now slightly more ajar, Liverpool were still kept honest with their efforts. Musialowski decided to spring in to life after a subdued opening 15 minutes, dropping deep and wide to dribble, shimmy and leave a few Stoke players in their wake. The young Pole, is however guilty of perhaps trying one dribble too many, and finding himself an area too congested. Liverpool’s bluntness going forward was obvious without the penalty box threat of Layton Stewart and Musialowski drifting in from the left hand side. He is young, and he will learn and is a joy to watch. Once he has harnessed how often and the areas in which he attempts his trademark dribbles, his talent becomes even more frightening. Woltman and Cannonier were ineffective, other than the goal.
Stoke threatened with punches of their own, with midfielder, Sy, the a standout, regularly giving the Liverpool midfield a headache. A cross was flashed across the 6 yard box before Mrozek made the first meaningful save of his Liverpool career denying a far post effort from Stoke’s Godfrin, palming away confidently for a corner.
As Stoke attacked more, the side’s build up was somewhat exposed as attempts to progress the ball results in a number turnovers in Liverpool’s favour. Liverpool’s midfield looked nicely balance between technicality, explosiveness and maturity. Dom Corness played a number of impressive first time passes in such situations, hitting the feet of the Liverpool forwards with little thought which unfortunately, again, proved redundant. A run in which England youth international James Norris beat two men before being scythed down, closed the curtains on a half that could be best described as mundane.
In summary, Liverpool had more meaningful possession, with Stoke the more meaningful chances. Liverpool was made to fight for every ball, and move it quick as to not be met with a gritty duel, often, being reduced to possession in non threatening areas. A half that not many would have enjoyed, but in which they would have learned a lot, having to commit to the ugly side of the game, fighting for everything and digging in deep.
Mrozek’s debut proved to be relatively busy. Another shot palmed away with ease by Mrozek was followed by a couple of commanding catches.
Every single pass was met with engagement from a Stoke City player, including a number of eager heavy slide tackles, all of which were fair. Mabaya, Corness and McConnell had to show a level of steel, where many others would shy away. It was not enjoyable, but it was fruitful knowledge. Woltman and Cannonier would also be dropping deep to aid defensively.
Little being created in the way of chances, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson ended James McConnells impressive debut in the 60th minute introducing Melkamu Frauendorf. The move tactically changed the game, with Frauendorfs presence in the final third saw Musialowski find space with more regularity. Liverpool’s best chance of the game looked like a homage to the first team with Norris, whipping in an inviting ball from the left that Musialowski met in the box without making enough contact.
The sensation of relief materialized when that man Musialowski found Oakley Cannonier’s run in behind the Stoke defence, who expertly dispatched the ball in the back of the net to restore Liverpools lead. Given a chance to show stubbornness of their own, Liverpool shut down the hatchets to a Stoke side who were not any less aggressive in their approach. The game finished 2-1 in a valuable experience for the Young Reds.
SUMMARY AND STANDOUT PERFORMERS
The players won’t have enjoyed it, but the coaches will while learning a lot in the process. Liverpool were made to work. And work hard they did. My two Man Of The Matches were fairly resoundingly, Isaac Mabaya and James Norris. Mabaya used the ball intelligently well, with a good all round performance in both phases of play. Relatively new to U18 football, Mabaya does not look out of place at all. Norris caused havoc all game down the left hand side, seemingly always able to find a yard of space to get in his cross. A great engine and not shy of a challenge, Norris at one point found an attacker with a vertical ball on his weaker foot, which shows his well roundedness. Quansah and Miles did well undoubtedly leaving the pitch with a few bruises, tested by a physical Stoke attack. Wilson and the opposite flank, with the midfield playing a steely game in the midfield. Musialowski flitted in and out the game in a new role, but there were promising signs, as usual.
Liverpool: Mrozek; Wilson, Quansah, Miles, Norris; Corness, McConnell(Fraeundorf 60′), Mabaya; Cannonier, Woltman, Musialowski
LAST GAME: Manchester City 4-2 Liverpool FC| PREVIOUS FORM: LWWLW| NEXT GAME: BLACKBURN (H)
Stoke: Cooper; Curl, Olagbue, Nixon, Mebourne; Nash; Verma, Sy, Godfrinne Griffiths; Tezgel
LAST GAME: Sunderland 7-1 Stoke City| PREVIOUS FORM: LWDLW| NEXT GAME: WOLVES (A)