FA Youth Cup semi-final first leg
FINANCIAL Fair Play, and Liverpool’s intention to try and stick to it, means the Reds are going to rely increasingly on the products of the Academy at Kirkby. It’s not just about players making it into the first team; money raised from the sale players who don’t quite make Liverpool’s grade can be reinvested.
Reaching the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup is a sign that Liverpool are producing good young players. The key for Liverpool at this level isn’t winning trophies – as nice as that might be – but producing those players. Last night’s first-leg result was disappointing and makes winning that trophy much harder but until Chelsea’s opener there were plenty of signs that Liverpool are producing good young players.
Chelsea are already ahead of Liverpool at this level, their squad filled with players just that bit bigger and stronger than Liverpool’s – and at least one of their number, 17-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, is reportedly on a contract that will see him made a millionaire whilst still a teenager. But Liverpool performed so well that they’ll be bitterly disappointed at conceding the 86th minute opener, let alone the second in injury time.
On last night’s showing there is a great deal of potential in this young Liverpool side
It was Chelsea who had the first chances at goal, Islam Feruz getting a shot in that was blocked by Liverpool’s defence and then getting a free kick after a foul by Lloyd Jones. Chelsea skipper Lewis Baker took the free kick, from midway inside the Reds half, but it went well wide.
As the game went on Liverpool started to take control and on this winger Kristoffer Peterson stood out particularly, looking a good fit for that famous number 7 shirt for the Reds on the night.
The 18-year-old Swede almost put Jordan Ibe in on 19 minutes but his cross at the end of one of his many runs that worried the Chelsea defence was intercepted by the keeper. Ibe did have a chance just a couple of minutes before, coming close to scoring but his shot was deflected for a corner.
More good work from Liverpool saw Ibe put in a shooting position again after 25 minutes, Beeney only able to parry the shot but Chelsea getting away with it. A minute later Peterson had what looked like a cross-shot and again the Chelsea keeper parried it but escaped without conceding.
After a sustained period of control for Liverpool Chelsea had a chance when captain Baker put Feruz through but he dragged his shot wide.
The atmosphere from the Kop was starting to build after the half-hour mark as another Liverpool chance came up, Beeney saving and this time holding Peterson’s shot. Peterson had shown some trickery to beat one defender before shooting through another’s legs, but in the end it was straight at the keeper.
Determination from Jack Dunn saw Liverpool get a corner on 35 when most players might have given it up. The corner came to nothing for Liverpool but turned into a break for Chelsea that would have almost certainly given the visitors the opener had it not been for Reds captain Jordan Lussey. The midfielder showed his maturity by chasing back and winning the ball with a perfect tackle leaving Chelsea with a throw-in instead of a goal.
Chelsea did get a chance a few minutes later but Feruz’s shot was cleared. It fell to Charlie Colkett who had more time than perhaps he realised; his first time shot looping well over the bar and into a laughing Kop.
As the half came to an end Lussey wasn’t quite as precise in the tackle as he’d been earlier in the game and he picked up a booking. The resulting free-kick led to a Chelsea corner and although that corner found the head of a visiting defender he blasted it wide.
The first chances of the second half fell to Chelsea, a speculative shot that just cleared the bar a minute in followed a couple of minutes later by a free kick that Fulton punched clear. He had another shot to save shortly after and with Chelsea seemingly creating more clear-cut chances he was the busier of the two keepers on the night and up until those disappointing final minutes was easily a match for Chelsea’s forwards.
Loftus-Cheek was lucky to escape without a booking just before the hour mark with a foul that, in a relatively quiet Anfield, sounded as bad as it looked on Liverpool’s skipper Lussey. The referee gave a free kick but kept his cards in his pocket. Lussey needed fairly lengthy treatment and although he did come back on for a few minutes he soon had to retire from the match. Dan Smith came on in his place, Jack Dunn took over the armband.
Liverpool were still settling into this change and the loss of their skipper when Chelsea came close to scoring. Feruz hit the post and the rebound fell to Alex Kiwomya whose shot was saved by the impressive Fulton.
Fulton was called into action a minute later after Kiwomya – cousin of Chris – waltzed through the Reds defence.
In what was a spell of end-to-end action it was then Liverpool’s turn to hit the post, Peterson desperately unlucky for the Reds. Chelsea managed to scramble the ball behind for a corner which Lloyd Jones met with his head but was clearly disappointed to see go over the bar.
As the game moved into the last ten minutes a break from Peterson saw him clipped as he was heading at pace towards the Chelsea box. Dan Smith touched the ball to Dunn but his shot was charged down.
Jordan Ibe impressed throughout the night showing why he was recently called into the first team squad as an unused sub against Southampton, but with five minutes left he made way for a player who has already tasted first-team action for the Reds. Jerome Sinclair became the youngest ever player to feature in a Liverpool first team earlier this season. Injury has kept him out of the youth sides in recent weeks and was perhaps part of the reason he was kept back until five minutes from the end. Liverpool will no doubt be hoping to get full use of him for the second leg.
Chelsea’s Jerome Boga, one of the many coveted names in the visitors’ side, had largely been kept quiet by Liverpool and, perhaps out of frustration as much as hope, hit a wayward shot over the bar as the clock ticked down.
The game was getting to the stage where players might be starting to think about getting in the shower, about debating what went right and wrong, about anything but the game currently being played. Liverpool perhaps started to relax for the first time in the game and with minutes to go Chelsea captain Lewis Baker got forward and found Kiwomya who turned and shot into the ground but past the so-far unbeatable Fulton.
Liverpool at that point might have been better served in remembering this was half-time in a two-legged game but in the urgency to try and pull one back found themselves exposed again. The game had already gone into the four minutes of injury time – a call that got the Kop urging the home side on – when some great work from Boga on the counter attack allowed him to set up Kiwomya for his and Chelsea’s second.
The Reds did get a free kick as injury time ticked down and there was some delay before the kick was taken as things got heated in the box between the two sides as players jostled for position. As it was Jack Dunn had a crack at goal, his shot going over in what was the last act of the match.
The result might not have been the best but on this showing the future is very bright for Liverpool.
Liverpool: Fulton, McLaughlin, Maguire, Jones, Cleary, Lussey © (Smith), Peterson, Rossiter, Dunn, Brannagan, Ibe (Sinclair)
Unused subs: Crump, Baio, O’Hanlon
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina (Dabo), Davey, Christensen (Conroy), Wright, Baker ©,Kiwomya, Loftus-Cheek, Feruz, Colkett (Swift), Boga
Unused subs: Killip, Hunte