After 8 U21 Premier League Group 3 games, the youngsters had racked up 22 goals and conceded just 7 and sat comfortably top of their group going into Sunday afternoon’s clash with Chelsea at Langtree Park.
In similar contrast to their more senior club-mates yesterday, the youngsters enjoyed a much more fruitful first half, only to follow it up with a particularly poor second.
Chelsea got the game under way in front of a decent crowd but it was Liverpool that had more bite in the opening exchanges, as Conor Coady and Craig Roddan threw themselves into several crunching tackles with Chelsea struggling to retain any meaningful possession.
Despite this, it was Chelsea who had the first real opportunity the game, forcing a Peter Gulacsi save after 3 minutes, ensuring that the Liverpool ‘keeper got his gloves warm early in the match.
And it was Gulacsi again at the centre of the action after 11 minutes when Lewis Baker looked to take advantage of a defensive mistake, only to be thwarted by some strong goal-keeping from the big Hungarian.
With both Rodolfo Borrell (and the rather vocal Gulacsi from the edge of his box) screaming instructions to his young charges, Liverpool started to dominate possession and begin to turn the screw, with John Flanagan and Jack Robinson causing Chelsea problems down either flank and not allowing the Blues wide-men to get forward, with both young defenders showing the benefits of having first team experience.
But it was another U21 star with first team minutes this season that was really giving Chelsea problems: Dani Pacheco. The Spanish stars tricky runs and intelligence off the ball causing Chelsea problems time and again between defence and midfield.
And so, it was no surprise that it was Pacheco that won the corner from which Liverpool would score the opening goal, on 22 minutes. A wicked cross from the left was initially headed down by Danny Wilson, and Chelsea ‘keeper Blackman was only able to push the ball into the melee in the box. Michael Ngoo was most alert and showed great composure to nudge the ball across the goal-line.
Following the first goal, Liverpool upped the pressure further and but for a linesman’s flag would’ve been 2-up after 24 minutes. But the Reds didn’t have to wait much longer, as another fumbled cross from Chelsea’s Jamal Blackman was rifled home with great skill by Jack Robinson.
As the first half came to a close, Liverpool’s youngsters looked to be enjoying themselves with Flanagan, Robinson, Pacheco and Ngoo giving Chelsea a torrid time.
With the second half barely 4 minutes old, Liverpool were 3-nil in front, with great forward-play from Ngoo winning possession in the Chelsea half, allowing Dani Pacheco to cross for Krizstian Adorjan to drift a sweet header over the suspect Blackman in the Chelsea goal.
The impression from the stands was that the game was won, as young Reds queued up to the corporate boxes, looking for autographs from the attending Liverpool manager and one Jose Enrique and it was no surprise to see the lackadaisical attitude permeate onto the pitch as well as Liverpool’s players began thinking the game was won.
Chelsea looked to take advantage and half-time Chelsea sub, Jeremie Boga began causing Wilson and Sama all kinds of problems.
It would be fair to say that the Blues of Chelsea pulled their first back almost entirely against the run of play, after some lax defending allowed Boga to slot the ball past the on-rushing Gulacsi.
There was nothing against the run of play in the 63rd though, as Chelsea dominated following Boga’s first, forcing mistakes in Liverpool’s midfield, allowing Boga to, once again, be played through one-on-one with Peter Gulacsi for Chelsea’s 2nd in quick succession.
And so it was that things would turn from bad to far, far worse for Liverpool as Patrick Bamford was brought down just 3 minutes later, as Peter Gulacsi was again left in no man’s land by the players in front of him but to bring down the on-rushing attacker. Lewis Baker slotted home the resultant penalty and Chelsea had pulled off a superb come-back, in the space of just 12 minutes.
What followed Chelsea’s 3rd was something of a midfield battle, with neither side really able to exert any kind of dominance over the game and in the 71st minute Liverpool’s frustration at letting their 3-nil lead slip showed as Jack Robinson was carded for an awful challenge.
With Marc Pelosi and Joao Teixera on for Liverpool the home side began to exert their influence more and were to enjoy a stronger finish to the game, with both Pelosi and Robinson going agonizingly close to scoring Liverpool’s 4th and what would, ultimately, have been the winner. But luck wasn’t to be on our side and Liverpool’s young guns will be disappointed to have let such a superb first-half display be over-shadowed by a lack of experience and concentration in the second.
Despite the turnaround though, Liverpool’s U21s remain unbeaten in 9 Premier league games this season and extended their lead at the top of the group to 6 points, with a game in hand over Wolves U21s.
L4L Man of the Match: Jack Robinson. Just edged out Dani Pacheco who was withdrawn after 25 minutes of the second half. The 19 year old showed further evidence to warrant more first-team appearances this season, as he gave Chelsea problems at both ends of the pitch and capped off a great performance with a goal in the first-half. The only down-side for the young defender was that second half yellow, but otherwise, unflappable.