Liverpool U21s open up their EFL campaign with a 4-0 defeat to Rochdale’s senior side. While The Dale’s were assuredly smart value for a win, a Liverpool-dominant first-half could have propelled the game into a different direction had The Reds added a clinical edge to a glut of chances. A painful football lesson for Lewtas’ boys, that will go a long way in their footballing education.
Liam Kelly opened up the scoring for Rochdale against the run of play close to the half-time whistle with a sumptuous finish from outside the box. Not long after resumption, O’keefe duly converted a contentious penalty after Chambers had been adjudged to bring illegally clash with the spot-kick scorer. Lewtas’ men tiring and Rochdale in the ascendency, O’keefe and Andrews doubled a well deserved lead with similar finished across Davies’ goal.
Sprinklings of U23 regulars such as Elijah Dixon-Bonner amongst those who have recently been promoted to the group like Max Woltman meant experience differed throughout the squad. Several would be playing against a senior outfit in a competitive game of football for the very first time.
As it happened…
Inexperienced Liverpool took the reigns, seemingly unfazed by the physicality posed by Rochdale flinging the ball from right to left with Tyler Morton at the heart of Liverpool’s possession, keeping the ball well. An ever-growing centre-back partnership of Clayton and Koumetio, initially did well to starve the supply to the Dale frontline with the Frenchman fierce aerially, while regularly stepping out of the defensive line with the ball.
Matteo Ritaccio looked clever in flashes, with some forward thinking passing, at the heart of the first chance of the game. Plucking the ball out of their air in a crowd of blue in the middle of the pitch, Ritaccio quickly found Woltman in a pocket of space, who’s equally as clever touch could not be capitalised on by O’rourke after a heavy touch in the box.
Hungry to capitalise on a growing momentum, Morton’s fierce looping effort towards goal forced Coleman to claw a goal-bound effort out for a corner. Ritaccio flashed just wide of the post picking up the corner’s remnants outside of the box.
A fluid frontline of O’rourke, Woltman and Bearne caused initial headache for the Rochdale defence in their persistence to run in behind and rotate. While profiting from a number of well-timed through balls, over the course of the game, the front three will have learnt lessons from playing against a seasoned centre-back pairing.
Unfortunately, O’rourke was replaced on the 14th minute by Mateusz Musialowski after injury.
It would be Bearne’s own invention that sourced the chance of the half, as he received the ball into feet inside the book, a man touch-tight to his back was left trapped in a freeze-framed as Bearne spun in behind from the back his heel before firing over deep into the box. On another day, The Reds may have been a goal or two up as Woltman went close after an intelligent run was found inside the channel by Chambers, with Coleman managing to make the definitive touch to a goal-bound effort.
As the rookies learnt in harsh manner, the dynamic of a football match can change in a micro-second.
Tom Clayton’s well timed intervention inside the box would fall to the feet of debutant Liam Kelly, who could not have asked for a better first marker. The net had begun to ripple as soon as Kelly let fly; a curler hurtling towards the top corner from outside the box.
While The Dale’s first goal was against the run of play, the League Two outfit were equally as impressive in the second half, with an added clinical edge.
Luke Chambers, stepping up from the U18 level, was judged to have illegally clashed with O’keefe inside the box. And the game was resoundingly blue from then on as the upended became the scorer.
Outside of few pot-shots outside the box from Mateusz Musialowsk and Elijah Dixon-Bonner, The young Reds attack appeared blunted as fatigue took hold and Rochdale slowly turned the screw with a toolkit of experience.
Most indicative of the changing of hands came in the form of Rochdale being presented a 1v1 opportunity on a plate after a lethargic build-up from between The Reds’ backline. Davies saved smart from Brierley’s effort.
Each finish as assertive as the other, O’keefe powered past Chambers on the right before thumping the opposite bottom-corner before an almost identical finish from Andrews meant that Liverpool were well beaten on the night. Davies was forced into action on a number of occasions outside of The Dales’ two goals, while not having to make a stretching save, showed an assured pair of hands on a number of occasions.
Rochdale would be unfortunate not to record a 5th as brierley hit the up-right from 25 yards deep in stoppage time.
The Young reds will perhaps improve as the tournament progresses, as they begin to turn their experiences into improvement as they engage in the street-smarts of senior football and adapt to the intensity and physicality of the game. Next up, Lewtas takes his men to Bolton.
Particularly in the first half, Tyler Morton flung the ball around the pitch at will aiding Liverpool’s expansive play. An impressive range of passing with an incisive eye for a pass, Morton provided an extra dimension for Liverpool when progressing the ball. Jack Bearne‘s persistence in penetration, guile and industry made him somewhat of a focal point in the first-half with the invention to beat a man.