Liverpool’s Under-18s will take on Leicester City in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup after a 1-0 win against Manchester United on Saturday.
Tyler Morton’s 10th goal of the season was enough for Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s side, who were forced to defend with their backs to the wall for the final 20 or so minutes following James Norris’ red card.
The full-back was given his marching orders for a wild challenge, but the visitors were able to hold on to see it through at a sun-soaked Leigh Sports Village.
“We’re through to the next round and everyone is pleased in that respect, but our performance with the ball wasn’t anywhere near the level that we would want it to be,” manager Bridge-Wilkinson told the ECHO after the game.
“Out of possession, I thought defensively we were outstanding. It wasn’t the performance that we wanted but we are really pleased to be in the next round.
“In terms of the way we defended, especially when we went down to 10 men, I thought the lads were outstanding.
“Their willingness to work for each, to do a job for the team, to put their bodies on the line, while not being silly and giving away silly fouls, was really pleasing.”
Confident Musialowski showing promise
It might have been a low-key few weeks for the big names of Liverpool, but Mateusz Musialowski enjoyed it more than most.
The young Pole was one of 12 youngsters who were hand-picked by Academy director, Alex Ingelthorpe and elite development coach, Vitor Matos, during the international break to train with Jurgen Klopp’s first team.
The exciting teenager was able to rub shoulders with the likes of Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner, while also pitting his wits against the current PFA Young Player of the Year, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“It’s a great opportunity and a great lesson,” he said of training with the Premier League champions. “I played against some of the best players in the world, so it was an amazing experience.
“This is definitely the place I want to be and I will do everything to stay in this place.”
Despite being out of action for a year when he signed back in August from SMS Lodz, the likeable teen has enjoyed an excellent season at this level.
His trademark willingness to run at opposition defences, as evidenced by a stunning recent effort against Newcastle – a goal he claimed was learned from studying Lionel Messi – was on show against United here.
“That was my typical goal in Poland,” he said, matter-of-factly of the mazy run and finish. “For some, it could be difficult but I find it easy when I am doing this on the pitch.”
Such belief in his own ability will hold him in good stead as he takes more steps towards further involvement with Klopp’s crop at the AXA Centre.
An early dribble from the left saw him force a decent save from United goalkeeper Radek Vitek, while one nice pirouette and pass early in the second half got Liverpool on the front foot.
Confidence, you feel, will not be an issue for Musialowski any time soon.
The sending off of Norris limited Musialowski’s ability to play his natural game in the second period as the visitors were forced to go backs-to-the-wall by the red card.
Cramp, picked up in the closing stages, saw U18 boss Bridge-Wilkinson bring off his in-form winger, but there was enough here to suggest why the excitement around this player is so high at the Academy right now.
Billy the Kid’s progression continues
As has been the case for much of the season at first-team level, there was a spotlight on the Liverpool centre-backs for this one.
Or, more specifically, on Billy Koumetio, whose two weeks with Jurgen Klopp’s seniors during the international break was just his latest stint with Premier League stars he is becoming increasingly familiar with.
It’s been a season to remember for a player Klopp affectionately refers to as ‘Billy the Kid’, with his Liverpool debut arriving via the Champions League meeting with Midtjylland back in December.
Back in his natural surroundings here with the Under-18s, the former Lyon defender was excellent alongside captain Jarell Quansah as they kept United at bay after going down to 10 men in the second half.
It’s easy to see why Koumetio is so highly rated.
The imposing 18-year-old is a man mountain at this level and retains a composure in possession with his trusty left foot.
Koumetio excelled to keep the dangerous duo of Charlie McNeill and Joe Hugill quiet all game, which is no mean feat given the latter’s six goals against the Reds this season that included four in one game at U23 level.
A well-timed interception stopped a United attack in their own half in the first period and ended with Dominic Corness firing just wide of the hosts’ goal.
One important thwarting of Shola Shoretire before the hour mark was crucial as the United onslaught was just starting to get into motion.
And with the game into its final throes, Koumetio stayed strong, defending resolutely to help the 10 men to a huge victory.
“Jarell and Billy at centre-back were fantastic in clearing a lot of crosses and corners that came into the box,” said Bridge-Wilkinson after the game.
“They did exactly what you would want your two centre-backs to do at the moment of the game.
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“They were dominant in the area, getting blocks in, winning tackles and defending higher up the pitch in other moments of the game, so today they were very, very good.”
Liverpool may have suffered a terrible fate with their senior centre-backs this term, with season-ending injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, but don’t rule out a more prominent role next year for the rapidly improving ‘Billy the Kid’.