27/02/2021|15:00|KIRKBY ACADEMY|CLEAR SKIES AND SUN
The sun that shone down on to Kirkby Academy mirrored the mood of Barry Lewtas watching The Young Reds. Four goals, a clean sheet and the return of Paul Glatzel and Abdi Sharif to Premier League 2 football. An imperious afternoon.
Jurgen Klopp’s coaching staff watched from afar for the first half, but that will have been enough to see that the high octane, intensity based philosophy that has brought success at the top is trickling down to the bottom.
The score-line tells a story of offensive dominance, but it was more to the defensive acumen of Barry Lewtas’ men that Liverpool can owe to their comprehensive victory. With little action outside of the two goals scored, Lewtas can take many positives from Liverpool’s defensive fortitude in the first half. A hungry Liverpool side gave up nothing.
A front three of Ben Woodburn, Layton Stewart, and Elijah Dixon-Bonner pressed relentlessly, often backed up by an onrushing Jake Cain to win loose balls. Arsenal’s backline couldn’t breathe. Any balls outside of their own defensive third found a Liverpool man as Arsenal struggled to get out of their own defensive third. Layton Stewart, perhaps buoyed by his debut Premier League 2 goal last week, was a menace.
The first ten minutes proved to be Arsenals most threatening period in the first half. On the few occasions the press was broken, it would be Arsenal’s left-hand-side that proved to be their most joyous areas as the experienced Reiss Nelson managed to combine with the likes of Cirjan and looked to have the beating of Conor Bradley early on.
It was hardly a whitewash in the favour Nelson though. As the game wore on, Bradley gathered his bearings, and proved to be a formidable opponent for Nelson in what will have been an undoubted learning curve.
Every second ball, and every defensive duel fell in favour of The Reds. Every one.
The first goal was a product of intensity. 10 minutes in, Ben Woodburn pressed high and wide to force Arsenals right back to send a wayward ball in to his own box. Unfortunately for Arsenal, it had fallen to the last man on the pitch they would have wanted; Layton Stewart.
Left hand side of the box, side foot, bottom right corner. Goal.
The half continued in a similar manner. No drop off in the press. When Arsenal did go long to beat the press Koumetio and Boyes proved to be aerially dominant to keep Moller frustrated. Koumetio in particular showed his quality in possession, with several arrowing switches of play.
The highly rated Taylor-Hart will be glad to see the back of Owen Beck, who was particularly solid. Beck was strong in his defensive duels and positioned himself well to ensure an early dominance. Taylor-Hart left the pitch a beaten man in the first half.
A sumptuous chip in to the box from Tyler Morton, who continues to show an eagerness to add to his end product, was unfortunately called for offside after another Stewart finish. While Arsenal were unwilling to go in to half-time without letting their quality be known, as a cross from the left saw Cirjan hit the woodwork.
Liverpool grew in confidence and in lead. We saw a repetitive feature of play in Jake Cain picking up a loose ball in midfield, and driving in to the box, before subsequently jinking past a man with a step over and finding the top corner of the net. Liverpool would double their lead going in to half-time. 2-0.
Luckily for for Barry Lewtas, he’s not paid by the length and quality of half-time team talks. It was one of Liverpool’s best halves of the season. More of the same, lads.
And it was almost a mirror image. Two minutes in, Jake Cain, again perched with the ball on the edge of the box, hit what was admittedly a poorly struck shot that trickled under Smith to put to bed any hopes of an early Arsenal resurgance.
Arsenal did enjoy more possession in advanced territory in the second half, however Liverpool remained stubborn in defence.
If there was ever an award for tackle of the match, Conor Bradley would be a certain victor. A looped ball over the top seemed destined to be dispatched in to the net by Reiss Nelson on the edge of the six yard box, before time seemed to suspend itself with Bradley stooping in with a slide tackle from behind to push the ball away from Nelson’s path. Penalty claims waved away.
The match had everything, even a moment of comedy. Debutant, Liam Hughes was judged to have picked up the ball from a Koumetio back pass which saw an indirect freekick, 3 yards from the by line that was defended with 9 Liverpool players on the goal line. Again, victory.
Liverpool’s tails were still up in to the latter stages of the second half. Vigour in the press, tenacity in the tackle and a dash of quality in the way Elijah Dixon-Bonner picked up a loose ball with the back of his heel after a Stewart press. The ball was then slotted in to the path of Ben Woodburn, who wasted no time in making it four.
A performance to remember. Trying to avoid hyperbole, it was a genuinely impressive performance against an Arsenal side who’d show flashes of potential. Nelson was busy, and after being dropped to the 23’s his work rate didn’t shirk. A few nice touches from Cirjan here and there while Akinola had a particularly memorable piece of play to turn his way out of a Liverpool press. But it wasn’t just the football that was notable for Liverpool.
Two late half substitutions saw the introduction of both Paul Glatzel, and Abdi Sharif, both returning from long term injuries. Particularly in the case of Glatzel, who was on the verge of first team introduction before essentially missing two years of development, it represents the transformation of heartache to excitement as two promising young players, robbed of what they love, look to get their career back on track. Heart warming.
A 4-0 win to record back-to-back victories, a sun filled Merseyside, and the return of two bright prospects, not to mention the 2-1 last minute Mini-Merseyside U18 derby win. It has been a great weekend for the academy.
Honestly, this section could go to anybody.
A welcome clean sheet on his debut for Liam Hughes who looked confident and assured throughout, a commanding display at the back from Boyes, who I guiltily underrated, mainly because of the way he goes about his business quietly.
The much maligned Koumetio was impressive on and off the ball, after struggling of late. Every single player worked hard. And that’s not on the level of some Liverpool type propaganda.
Morton, is ever improving after his step up and the way Clayton stepped in for the Leighton Clarkson was fantastic. Woodburn, who has tasted first team football, continues to work hard and graft where many would not. While Conor Bradley was tested the most, he had by far the hardest challenge and will be one of the greatest beneficiaries of todays game. Elijah Dixon-Bonner goes under the radar for his work-rate as well. Todays decision is certainly. subjective.
OWEN BECK – After returning from injury last week and given a fairly tough time by Rankine of Chelsea, today showed no doubt as to why he is thrown straight back in to the team. Taylor-Hart, his opposition right winger, is highly regarded and is subject to interest from Bundesliga and Premier League clubs. Beck didn’t give him a sniff. Using his body well to usher him out wide, while staying strong in his duels and never been caught too far forward, Beck has a near perfect game, with no marks against his name on a day where forward players will undoubtedly grab the headlines.
LAYTON STEWART: It’s hard to ignore the ascendency in which this young man is rising. Although he’s been at Liverpool since his childhood, it’s almost as if he knew Jurgen Klopp would manage Liverpool one day, as he’s the embodiment of the German’s philosophy. More than ever today, we saw non-stop press that made me tired watching him. This is without mentioning how clinical he is from a variety of finishes. Very impressive again today, with momentum behind him in
JAKE CAIN: Cain had the arduous task of having to block off passing lanes that were left open by the press of the front three, while having to recover in to his own third if the press is broken. Fortunately, this provided him with space in the pockets of the Arsenal midfield, to attack the space in the box while linking the front three and grabbing two goals for himself. Well worth his brace today.
LIVERPOOL; Hughes; Bradley, Boyes, Koumetio, Beck; Clayton, Dixon-Bonner Morton; Cain, Woodburn, Stewart
ARSENAL; Smith; Alebiousu, Kirk, Monlouis Bola; Akinola, Cirjan Cottrell; Taylor-Hart Nelson, Moller