There is always a collective sense of excitement when Liverpool’s latest crop of youngsters are selected for the first team. Far from being critical of the manager for resting senior players, fans are often thankful for a chance to see Academy graduates that can often feature so prominently in football related conversations.
On rare occasions, this excitement is justified by a dazzling performance or spectacular goal, but in the majority of instances, games such as these can turn out to be somewhat of an anti-climax. In tonight’s game however, Liverpool’s new young charges were involved in a thrilling 5-3 victory over Switzerland’s Young Boys in the club’s first Europa League group fixture.
The early stages of the game suggested that Liverpool’s tactical plan was very much a case of ‘different players, same philosophy’. The intention from the first whistle was to dominate possession and build patiently towards the final third, and in the opening minutes the plan was being implemented successfully.
Liverpool’s first goal though – far from being the result of a slick passing move – came from a catastrophic piece of defending that wouldn’t look entirely out of place on Auntie’s Sporting Bloomers.
On 4 minutes, Stewart Downing got to the byline and swept in a high cross which was met by the head of Christoph Spycher. Instead of making a no-nonsense clearance, Spycher proceeded to nod it straight onto the back of defensive partner Juhani Ojala’s head and the ball fired straight into the net.
The latter is likely to feel very aggrieved to have an (og) next to his name. He did manage to feature on the correct side of the scoresheet later on in the game however.
A shell-shocked Young Boys side managed to regain their composure the longer the half went on, and Liverpool’s possession play began to turn a little more sloppy. Encouragingly though, the home side created little and an equaliser didn’t exactly appear inevitable.
Cue another defensive blunder from Liverpool. A one-two between Young Boys’ attacking duo had Liverpool in trouble, but Jose Enrique did well initially by covering for a sluggish looking Jamie Carragher and turned convincingly away from danger; instead of then taking aim at Row Z however, he inexplicably gave it straight to Raphael Nuzzolo who fired into an empty net.
Liverpool didn’t have to wait long to restore their lead. Five minutes before the break, Andre Wisdom – making his competitive debut at right-back – rose majestically to meet a Nuri Sahin corner and aimed a powerful header into the bottom right hand corner.
There looked to be even more goals in the game, and so it proved. Young Boys started the second period in a more aggressive and purposeful fashion and Ojala levelled the scores on 53 minutes. Raul Bobadilla curled in a cross from the right hand side and the Finn headed brilliantly across Brad Jones with the ball bouncing in off the inside of the post.
Endearingly, Liverpool repeatedly pressed forward whilst continuing to look susceptible at the back. After a Liverpool set piece, Young Boys broke and Bobadilla evaded the challenge of Carragher and Suso before sliding a ball through to Gonzalo Zarate. Clean through on goal, the Argentinian dinked a beautifully executed chip over Brad Jones. For the first time in the game, Liverpool were behind.
By this time though, substitutes Fabio Borini and Jonjo Shelvey were beginning to have a growing influence on the game and Liverpool looked threatening with every attack. The inevitable equaliser came on 70 minutes when Sebastian Coates headed another Sahin corner towards goal; the ball fell perfectly to Borini who failed to get a touch, but this only served to distract Marco Wolfli and the ball bounced high into the net.
A draw would have been an acceptable result in the circumstances, but Liverpool continued to go for the jugular and went ahead yet again on 76 minutes. A fast flowing move started with Borini sprinting down the left hand side, the Italian then played a great pass across the edge of the box to the impressive Jordan Henderson, he cushioned an intelligent ball back inside to Jonjo Shelvey who nudged it home from close range.
Shelvey’s cameo performance was one of the highlights of the evening and he capped a fine attacking performance from Liverpool with a classy goal on 88 minutes. After a marauding run through the centre of the park, he dropped a shoulder, drifted around Spycher and fired a powerful left footed strike past Wolfli.
In many ways, Liverpool’s performance was befitting of a young team. It contained bags of enthusiasm, energy and an attacking verve that was thrilling to watch at times. A dose of defensive naivety made it a difficult evening but it should be noted that Liverpool’s rearguard (with the exception of Wisdom) was their most experienced area of the pitch, so generally speaking, Rodgers will be concerned about the team’s ongoing defensive frailty.
In terms of individual performances from the club’s youngsters and debutants, Andre Wisdom displayed a assuredness and composure beyond his tender years. Holistically speaking, the performance of Suso was disjointed but he looks to be an intelligent footballer with a lovely left foot. He had some classy moments which suggests that he will feature prominently in the forthcoming months and years.
Daniel Pacheco had a largely forgettable evening and his performance did little to suggest that his career at Anfield could in some way be resurrected. Oussama Assaidi was fairly quiet but he looks to have a tricky turn of pace and skill that could well prove to be a notable asset for Rodgers to call upon.
Man of the Match: Andre Wisdom. Apart from his goal, not only did Wisdom defend well but his distribution and ability to turn skilfully out of some difficult positions gave the impression that he has been part of the first team for several years – not bad for a 19-year-old. He was very closely followed by Jordan Henderson, who rarely gave the ball away all evening and far from sulking about his recent omission from the first team, he rolled his sleeves up and churned out a lung-busting performance in the heart of Liverpool’s midfield.
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