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Liverpool U23’s halted a frustrating winless run of six, in a game that was very much a tale of two halves. A talented Chelsea team took the reins, which were snatched away by a quick fire Liverpool double before Layton Stewart scored his first U23 Premier League 2 goal. An occasion that was tainted by injuries to Marcelo Pitaluga and Leighton Clarkson.
Although an U23 match, it looked looked like men against boys for the first 30 minutes. A robust Chelsea side gobbled up every second ball, won every duel and caught a Liverpool side flat footed.
The early warning signs arrived just 3 minutes in to the game as Valentino Livravento skipped past two Liverpool men only to be scythed down by the studs of Connor Bradley.
It took just six minutes of sustained Chelsea pressure for Liverpool to come undone. It was a case of De Ja Vu for Billy Koumetio, who’s Cruyff turn on the edge of his own box lead to a Chelsea turnover, and no sooner was Tierno Ballo wheeling away in celebration after rifling the ball in to the bottom left hand corner. Another mistake by the young Frenchman punished.
With Layton Stewart feeding off of scraps despite constant endeavour in his quest to run in behind an impressive Chelsea defence, the likes of Luis Longstaff and Ben Woodburn faded in to the peripheries of the game.
Woodburn could often be found searching for the ball deep, leaving Stewart isolated up top. The first 30 minutes provided little positivity for Liverpool, other than a few nice touches from Leighton Clarkson, who continues to show why he trains with the Liverpool first team.
Owen Becks injury has also not deterred his determination, with his battle with Rankine proving to be one of intruige. Nevertheless, much like Liverpool’s first team at times, long balls resulted in a seemingly blunted attack.
Meanwhile, Lewis Bate ran the show for Chelsea. Every Chelsea attack seemed to be sourced back to him, teasing the Liverpool midfield with constant switches and smart touches leaving Clarkson and co. chasing shadows. By the 30th minute, Liverpool could count themselves lucky not to be three goals down with Chelsea coming close from a set piece and a Rankine effort flying just wide of the post.
Liverpool would grow in to the game. It is said that one makes their own luck, and hard work was conducive with Liverpool’s 5 minute comeback. Perhaps guilty of a lack of width for large chunks of play, Liverpool’s fullbacks played a key role in Liverpool’s more incisive attack.
A few testing balls from Owen Beck should have been a loud enough warning for Chelsea. Ben Woodburn found Conor Bradley in space high and wide on the right, who sent a grounded cross in to the path of Jake Cain, who would rifle home next to the penalty spot. Shortly after, a high Liverpool press led by Luis Longstaff saw an awry ball picked up by Tyler Morton just inside the box before a sumptuous lob put the reds a goal up at 2-1; a score line that could be very different at the break.
It seems Liverpool’s injury luck has extended itself to the youth team, as Marcelo Pitaluga was forced off with a groin issue just before half time to slightly diminish the Liverpool’s buoyancy following their quickfire show of resilience.
Liverpool’s momentum ran in to the next half, as a laborious performance quickly turned in to a high intensity one. Chelsea struggled to get out of their own defensive third in the opening stages as Woodburn, Stewart, and the freshly introduced Dixon-Bonner pressed with vigour with Chelsea reliant on the excellent Lewis Bate to stab the ball through the lines to break the press.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance, the first chance of the half and arguably the biggest chance of the game fell to Rankine, as a quick Chelsea transition lead to the Chelsea winger bearing down on the goal one on one with replacement, Ojrzynski, only to skew his side-footed effort wide.
Again, in something no one could expect, another Liverpool injury. Who saw that coming? Leighton Clarkson the casualty this time, a key Liverpool man. Tom Clayton the replacement. Although, Liverpool were not to be subdued for long.
A moment many involved in the academy set-up can saviour. A frustrating night for Layton Stewart quickly changed, rewarded for his arduous work with his first of many goals at U23 level. Having being with the academy since the age of 7, the 18 year old scouser is thought of as one the best talents in terms of pure goal scoring instinct in the entire club. Premier League 2 U18 top scorer, and regular trainer with the first team, Stewart showed why in a goal that best highlights his predatory instincts, after picking up on a loose ball on the edge of the 6 yard box after a ben Woodburn drive from the right hand side before leaving the keeper with no chance.
Chelsea crept back in to the game shortly, with energetic winger Tino Livramento bustling his way in to the box from the right wing, seemingly ignoring Billy Koumetio’s existence and dispatching the ball in the next.
In credit to what is evidently a hard period for Billy Koumetio, it was some of his astute defending that helped Liverpool ward off a period of sustained Chelsea pressure in the closing stages, coming out on top in some key duels and positioning himself well for important headers.
Barry Lewtas will be jubilant in the way in which his side returned to winning ways after a 6 match winless run, that sees Stewart break his duck and Owen Beck return from injury. Arsenal next.
Layton Stewart: Stewarts showed the persistence all strikers need in order to succeed at the highest level. Never stagnant in his movement and never lethargic out of possession; Stewart worked hard when many others would not have fancied and provided a headache for an impressive Chelsea defence. Perhaps the next step is adding some variation to his play and dropping deep every other attack to keep defenders guessing. Good night for him and will delighted with his goal. He loves goals.
Lewis Bate: As a Liverpool fan, I would be doing the sport of football a disservice if I ignored the performance of the Chelsea man. Majestic in the first half and industrious in the second. His quality would be the only reason Chelsea could play out of a strong Liverpool press. His variation of passes and ball mastery is second to none, whether drilled with his laces and the outside of the boot, the Chelsea maestro always finds his man. This isn’t to say his off the ball work is subpar, though, with Bate not shy of a duel himself. The first half in particular, Bate made the midfield his own.
Conor Bradley: One of the younger members of the squad at just 17, Bradley had to show a significant level of maturity after being booked just 3 minutes in the game. After his mishap, Bradley was measured in his tackles, snuffed out any long balls with his positioning, and drove with the ball well, often coming inside the pitch to set up attacking players. Bradley also picks up the assist for Jake Cain after a precise driven ball. A really strong showing from the Northern Island youth international.
Liverpool: Pitaluga; Bradley, Koumetio, Boyes, Beck; Clarkson, Longstaff, Morton; Woodburn, Cain Stewart