Following Liverpool Under 18s 3-1 victory over Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup 4th Round in midweek, the young Reds proved a point that they can cope without their most valuable players. As you may or may not know, both Jordon Ibe and Jerome Sinclair were unavailable for the tie. Ibe was absent due to his involvement with an ever decreasing first team squad and Sinclair picked up a knee injury in the Under 18s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Since then, the 17 year old forward has stated that he will be out for up to 4 weeks and will naturally be a big loss, as he has scored 10 League goals in his last 8 games. However, in this article for TLW, I’ll be explaining why Neil Critchley’s boys can cope without him and other key players including Ibe.
Firstly, Liverpool Under 18s are known for their very talented bunch of midfielders, especially in this season therefore cover should not be a problem. Furthermore, Crtichley does like to play the 4-2-3-1 formation for two probable reasons. One is because of the array of talent in the midfield and secondly this formation is becoming the modern day 4-2-2 for a large majority of clubs in the Premier League.

Replacing Sinclair
The benefit of playing a 4-2-3-1 formation is that you can only play one forward and since the Under 18s now only have one natural centre forward in Sergi Canos, it is likely that if the Spaniard starts to perform, he will be a straight swap for Sinclair while he is injured. As these players are so young, many of them are versatile and can play in a number of positions, meaning that Daniel Trickett-Smith, Harry Wilson and even Ryan Kent can play as a centre forward, if Canos continues to struggle to adapt to the tempo and strength of English football.

Replacing Ibe
Next, even though Jordon Ibe is eligible to play in the Under 18s this season, it is inevitable that he will play his majority of his games for the Under 21s and even the first team, and only drop down for the Under 18s for FA Youth Cup games, if he is fit. This means that Liverpool Under 18s must cope without Ibe, and then have done so for most of this season, because of two very talented wingers, Harry Wilson and Ryan Kent.
Harry Wilson has been the Under 18s best player this season, ahead of Sinclair as the Welshman has scored 14 goals in all competitions this season. His season then got better when he made his debut for the Wales national team aged just 16, which gave him a massive boost in his confidence which reflected on to the pitch. Even though Wilson was a substitute on Wednesday, he still showed why he was the most talented player in the Under 18s squad by scoring a quickfire brace to put distance between the Reds and Aston Villa. He almost got his hat trick in the 90th minute, but Villa ‘keeper Charlie Bannister denied what would have been a phenomenal performance which symbolised Wilson’s season thus far.
Ryan Kent has been a joy to watch for the Under 18s this season and is another player who is gifted with talent. Although Kent has only scored 3 goals in all competitions this season, he has impressed by providing crosses and balls for team-mates to finish off. This was evident on Wednesday as he has was provider for both of Wilson’s goals. Kent’s strongest attribute is his pace and his ability to make runs. This ability helped Liverpool Under 17s win the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland as Kent netted in the 2-0 victory over Newcastle in the final. He was rewarded with a professional contract with the club and a call up to England Under 17s squad, so if Kent keeps performing like he does, then he can have what it takes to be a top player in the future.

Replacing Brannagan
Another talisman that drops down to support the Under 18s in cup games is Cameron Brannagan. The 17 year old has impressed with the Under 21s this season scoring 4 goals including one in a mid season friendly against Dutch giants PSV. When he drops down to the Under 18s it is strange that he doesn’t play in the Number 10 role behind the striker, but Neil Critchley has two key players to replace him. The first one is Sheyi Ojo. Even though Ojo played out wide on Wednesday, he is much better in the Number 10 role. For Example, Ojo came on and played in the number 10 role against Blackpool in the 3rd round and made an immediate impact as he scored the goal which took the game to penalties. Also while playing as an attacking midfielder, Ojo has scored twice this season. The other player who can play in the number 10 is Daniel Trickett-Smith. He made headlines on Wednesday when he scored a stunning 20 yard volley to give Liverpool the lead. He causes havoc in this role and as well as his goal scoring ability, Trickett-Smith’ vision is sublime and has helped the likes of Sinclair and Wilson score their double figure goals this season. But, as before mentioned, I think Trickett-Smith is better as a forward whilst Sinclair is injured as Canos seems to have struggled.

Replacing Rossiter
The final player who the Under 18s will miss is Jordan Rossiter. Rossiter is one of the best performers in the Under 21s this season which has earned him a first team call up, aged just 16. However, like all the other key players, there are suitable replacements in the Under 18s squad. Firstly, there is summer signing Pedro Chirivella. Chirivella has been impressive despite being called ‘not exciting’ by many, but in his defence, you cannot be exciting as a holding midfielder where he plays for Liverpool. I think many critics saw him play for Spain, where he plays as an attacking midfielder so expect him to play there for Liverpool. This is not the case, but Chirivella is an ideal replacement for Rossiter. Despite speaking limited English, Chirivella has captained the side in the Milk Cup this season and as a holding midfielder it is common that he hasn’t registered a goal for Liverpool this season. The former Valencia man has experienced injury issues this season after being on the end of some ugly tackles from the opposition. If he is injured, Liverpool have another 16 year old at their disposal, who has got into the team of merit this season. His name is Adam Phillips and he was key for the Under 18s especially in their pre season tournament in the USA, scoring twice.
So, without key players, many would have thought that the Under 18s wouldn’t perform as before, but these players available just emphasise that fans have nothing to worry about if any key player doesn’t feature.

Below would be the team I would play if all key players are unavailable:

Crump; Randall, Williams, Brewitt, Maguire; Chirivella, Phillips; Kent, Ojo, Wilson; Trickett-Smith.

Thanks for taking the time to read this new feature on my blog, and for more content on Liverpool’s Under 21s and Under 18s then simply keep an eye out on my blog for more content. Finally, for more Academy updates, then be sure to follow me on Twitter (@ScottTaylorUK).