09/04/2021|19:00|CFA ACADEMY STADUIM|FLOODLIT
Liverpool’s threat of a late-season dash up the table halts to a standstill as Felix Nmecha’s close range winner extends Manchester City’s top-of-the-table lead.
Looking to avenge the 7-2 loss in the reverse fixture, Barry Lewtas will be disappointed his side didn’t come away with a point, if not all three, against arguably the best U18 side in the country.
It was a showing of marked improvement.
As Manchester City’s philosophy trickles down through the academy pores, The Citizen’s ball retention could only be admired while The Reds slowly got to grips with a new three-at-the-back system baring heavily on a well co-ordinated press.
While at times frustrated by The Reds, quick combinations and supreme technical quality from some of the countries highest revered talent meant an ever present threat.
The opening exchanges proved promising for Liverpool.
To the testament of Barry Lewtas’ coaching and Liverpool’s hard work, Manchester City’s elongated possession was often redundant.
With wingbacks Beck and Bradley both high and wide to be accompanied by hassling strikers Woodburn and Hardy, Manchester City defenders – if not harried off of the ball – were invited to play into central areas wherein Cain, Clarkson and Morton would snap in to action.
Joe Hardy, who’s pressing game fits the system like a glove, nearly gave Liverpool a dream start in preferred fashion as he eased Doyle off the ball in the opening minutes in his own box, only to fire well over the crossbar.
Just how Lewtas had intended.
The first 15 minutes provided little in the way of chances as patterns repeated and Manchester City were thwarted by a tenacious midfield. Beck and Bradley had the arduous tasks of manning the wing, present in both attack and defence – not made easier when against the most talented footballers in the country. But Manchester City’s bejewelled attacking talent rarely sparkled as they were forced to go long.
Liverpool’s midfield gem on the other hand shone blindingly bright again. Joe Hardy held up the ball well before playing a quick one-two with the man for the occasion, Tyler Morton. After scoring the winner last week against Manchester United, Morton serviced the opener here with an instinctive return ball in to Hardy who makes no mistake inside the box.
Joe Hardy rarely misses in the box.
But there is only so long a team of Manchester City’s technical quality can be pinned in. Probably all the way down to the U8’s.
Liverpool’s press began to slow and the gaps Manchester City found where big enough that Liverpool had soon found themselves camped on the edge of their box. Liam Delap began to fight his losing battle against Conor Bradley on the left but the likes of Cole Palmer and Alex Robertson gripped the game.
In free-flowing action, the pair combined to breakdown Liverpool’s resolute defence as the system slowly showed signs of unwinding. A smart turn from Palmer followed by a cutback was met with Robertson’s cool finish. Equalised.
It was Liverpool’s turn to remain penned in their own third during a period of Manchester City sustained pressure. A Delap long range effort was quickly followed by another that forced Conor Bradley into a goal-saving block for the second time in a week.
Manchester City were in the ascendency as was Cole Palmer. The England Youth international danced between the toes of Boyes and Clayton before ensuring Liverpool would go in at halftime at with the prospect of their initial groundwork amounting to no points.
The early signs were promising for The Young Reds, but needed some small refinements for the second half.
It was a team talk for the ages from Barry Lewtas.
It took Joe Hardy just 24 seconds to start get Liverpool’s cogs aggressively re-churning.
The press was back. Beck and Cain had blocked any access to the midfield, allowing Ben Woodburn to pick the pocket of former PSG man Claudio Gomes in his own area. Never one to shirk the groundwork, Woodburn teed up Hardy who was composed enough to finish with aplomb.
Much in the same fashion as the first, Liverpool started on the front foot.
A key facet of the game was Liam Delap’s waning influence. The sharpshooter who normally eats goals for breakfast was hastily quietened by Conor Bradley as soon as he threatened. Delap frustration became evident when he shoved Bradley in an off-the-ball incident.
Liverpool started to sustain pressure of their own as Owen Beck looked to add to his attacking output for the fourth time in 5 days as his sumptuous cross could only be lashed out of play by Leighton Clarkson.
As previously alluded too, you can’t ever fully bury the hatchet of this Manchester City attack. While much on City’s remaining forays forward fronted by Palmer were left blunted by well timed blocks and cheaply given away balls, Jakub ‘Kuba’ Ojrzyski was forced in to action sporadically.
A well-struck Delap effort forced a parry from the young Pole, but it was one-on-one with Cole Palmer when Kuba impressed most. Out assertively and down quickly, a low-driven corner bound effort was destined for the net only to be clawed away. Kuba then got his camera save. A wicked volley was tipped over in a show of quick reflexes.
The best chances had fallen to Manchester City while Liverpool found themselves in good territory often, but unable to knit together an end product. But Liverpool had worked hard with Kuba’s saves, one-on-one aside, forced from flashes of play with Manchester City seemingly silenced.
Bradley had caged Delap, Beck covered each blade of the touch line with Clayton, Boyes and Gallacher marshalling the Manchester City forward line well. It was a shift worthy of a point against the likely champions.
Which made Nmecha’s finish all the more heart-breaking.
In the 88th minute at that
A dinked ball in to the box saw the late substitute deliciously pluck the ball from the air before thrusting the dagger in to Liverpool hearts with a toed finish.
You could not begrudge a Manchester City win based on the chances created, the sheer legwork and outpour of energy will make it a tough one to take.
CONNOR BRADLEY: Not for the first time this season, Connor Bradley has kept one of the countries brightest talent quiet. Endeavour in his duels and good awareness of distances between himself and the man ensures he is more often than not in the best position to win the ball.
COLE PALMER: The Manchester City man was at the heart of everything. Not only technically secure but also inventive. A creative hub for Manchester City that is sure to have a promising career in the game.
JAKUB OJZRYNSKI: Kept Liverpool in the game. Made a number of standout saves that can fall in to different categories that show how well rounded he is. Reflexes, one-on-one and a well struck long range effort.
Joe Hardy: Fox in the box. Rarely misses inside the 18 yard area. Deserves his two goals today. Despite his injuries this season, he is still aggressive as ever in the press. Despite being small in stature, he can hold the ball up well at times and link the play. At 22, he is sure to get a good move next season.