An excitable, incandescent light continues to provide some small illuminating comfort in an otherwise gloomy season. Liverpool U18s fought their way into the Semi-Finals of the FA Youth Cup with an assertive 3-1 victory against a talented Arsenal outfit.
Naturally, the local lads set Liverpool on their way at Anfield.
Liverpool hit Arsenal with a quickfire first-half double after a clever finish from Max Woltman was shortly doubled by an emphatic James Norris penalty. A man who has picked up his own scouse twang, Mateusz Musialowski, ensured that Miguel Azeez’ penalty was only a consolation after finishing a trademark dribble.
Liverpool will play Ipswich, away, in the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final.
Arsenal dominated the opening proceedings as Liverpool found their groove. Arsenal’s build-up often proved to be equal too, if not greater than, Liverpool’s press enabling them to play through the thirds and tentatively threaten Liverpool’s goal. Monlouis in particular was vital in playing the role of conductor at the back.
Although, any threat was only tentative.
After quick interplay on the edge of the box was vitally cut out by Conor Bradley, the first chance of the game fell to Kido Taylor-Hart who flashed over from 25 yards. Bradley was forced to intervene again as he spotted a late run from Taylor-Hart towards the back post subsequently heading a looping ball out for a corner.
It was not quite a case of Liverpool needing to wake up but they quickly turned protagonist.
Corness and Morton quickly took hold of the game with Luca Stephenson always an option to recycle the ball forcing Arsenal’s structure back 10 yards with the backline tasked with the taxing task of marking the livewire that is Max Woltman. Arsenal’s assertiveness was quickly extinguished.
Max Woltman is in fine, fine form.
Woltman was as equally as important in the build-up as he was the finish. Woltman dropped deep and a sharp one-two and crossfield pass meant that Bradley could send a floating ball to a lurking balagizi who’s knockdown was finished instinctively by Woltman.
Woltman, is no doubt aware he is closing in on academy top scorer, Layton Stewart’s tally of fifteen for the season.
Liverpool did not adhere with Arsenal’s idea of replying immediately. Azeez, Arsenal’s primary threat, asked awkward questions of Harvey Davies with a bouncing deflecting shot from the edge of the box. But the Scouser remained equal too it.
Arsenal’s woes quickly furthered as Tyler Morton was caught in the inside the box. A Musialowski dribble led to a ricochet of hits resulting in a bouncing ball falling to Morton who succumbed to a slight tangling of legs.
James Norris made no mistake, doubling Liverpool’s lead from the spot.
The half remained comfortable as blows continued to be exchanged. Although, each was from distance. Dom Corness struck the post from 30 yards while Azeez stung the palms of Davies from similar distance.
Liverpool can owe much of their comfort to their defensive trident of Stephenson, Koumetio and Quansah while Conor Bradley had more often than not usurped his opposite winger, Taylor-Hart.
Liverpool had to dig deeper in the second half, although not quite as deep as the Fourth Round against Manchester United.
Azeez proved to be Arsenal’s main source of creativity, hovering between Liverpool’s defence and midfield with the ball often glued to his foot.
Outstretched legs, climbing headers and solid blocks; Liverpool had been here before. The vocal organisation of Jarell Quansah, evident to all from Anfield to London, was again pivotal. Arsenal were playing with more intent and required the aforementioned trio to block out the central areas as Taylor-Hart and Edwards both saw efforts easily dealt with.
James Balagizi highlighted just why his reputation is blossoming.
Capable of influencing a game both when Liverpool are in the ascendancy and their backs are against the wall.
Countless times, Balagizi was able to give the first-third a target to hit before getting his muscular frame between ball and man, allowing Liverpool to move up the pitch and alleviate pressure. Allowing those with the ardous task of wrangling Arsenal’s attacking talent a breather.
His decision-making and ability to play within tight spaces only adds an extra dimension. He can turn such a situation into a serious goalscoring opportunity, especially when you are winged by the talents of Musialowski and Woltman.
And thus, Liverpool’s third goal was born.
Balagizi nicked the ball high up the pitch, before galloping down towards goal and playing a ball Musialowski was able to pick up in his stride.
The dribble was gorgeous.
When there is an option to go either way with significant amounts of space on either side then the only winner is going to be the Scouse-twanged Pole.
Musialowski took his man on before powering a shot underneath the Arsenal goalkeeper before delivering a classic kneeslide at The Kop End.
Liverpool’s opportunities for the rest of the game remained few and far between.
Billy Koumetio unfortunately jotted a blemish on an otherwise impressive game when he caught Edwards in the box. Miguel Azeez expertly dispatched his penalty.
While the score-line ought to have killed the game, Arsenal’s penalty had eked them back into the game. The hard work continued.
Taylor-Hart had finally managed to show Bradley a pair of cleans after the Northern-Irish youngster had the upper hand for large portions of the match but any execution was lacking.
Miguel Azeez’ penalty remained a consolation.
Liverpool deservedly storm into the Semi-Finals under the eyes of a certain Jurgen Klopp.
MAX WOLTMAN: What a match report cannot tell you is the industrious work Max Woltman gets through. Not only is he a constant presser of the ball but he comes deep to link play, into channels to combine and disrupt the backline. Max struggled earlier in the season adapting to the intensity of the game and it is abundantly clear he works hard at his craft because he is now one of the most important players in the team. First came the chances, the runs and the anticipation of space. And now the goals have arrived.
JAMES BALAGIZI: Balagizi is my pick of the academy. There is a long, long road ahead. But James excells where many of his peers lack. Decision making, timing, unselfishness, spatial awareness and hard work. Balagizi rarely wastes a ball because of his understanding of his team-mates. It was his ability to releive pressure tonight. His threat in transition is growing.
The defensive work of the team as a unit was superfluous. The aforementioned culprits are pivotal to this cup run. Young Harvey Davies has been solid when needed. Musialowski will enjoy playing with the likes of Stephenson. Liverpool are yet to concede a goal from open play. Perhaps Tyler Morton’s influence has gone under the radar tonight.