By Scott Taylor
Michael Beale has set his Liverpool squad the aim of winning the U21 Premier League Cup after they came from behind to beat Brighton 4-3 after extra-time on Sunday afternoon. Jose Enrique, Jerome Sinclair and Ryan McLaughlin scored the goals for Liverpool as they battled back from 3-1 down for force extra-time. Jerome Sinclair scored the winner for Reds in the 93rd minute, and manager Beale wants his side to go all the way.
He exclusively told AnfieldHQ: “Our aim is to win this competition. It’s never as important as bringing players through to the first team. However, as an U21 manager I have set winning this cup as a group aim.”
This has been a stark contrast from their league form. Liverpool U21s currently sit ninth in the Premier League table, just three points above the relegation places. Beale believes that league position and success is not as important as development.
“To win the U21 Premier League is almost a direct sign that you haven’t developed or pushed players to the next challenge. This isn’t the Liverpool way,” he said. “As an academy coach it is our sole aim to support and provide players to the first team. In the last two seasons, there has been debuts for Chirivella, Rossiter, Brannagan, Kent, Sinclair, Ojo, Stewart, Randall and Williams and this has given great belief to the younger players in the Academy.”
Sinclair has been a key player for the U21s this season, being the team’s leading scorers as he approaches double figures in the league this season. However, the starlet has been linked with a move away from the club after rejecting numerous contract offers, with Watford looking a likely destination. Beale stresses the importance to ignore such transfer rumours and wants every player to stay out of the media.
He said: “I treat all players as equal and not reading the media has a big part to play. These boys all have a chance in the game. I’m not sure if the media making a big thing out of the Liverpool U21s is a good thing. I’d prefer the boys to develop under the radar and outside of the media spotlight.”
Sinclair and five other first-team debutants played in the victory against Brighton, whilst Kevin Stewart made his Premier League debut in Liverpool’s 6-0 victory at Aston Villa. Matthew Virtue hasn’t made his first-team debut as of yet, but has made a big impact in his first season with the U21s, and Beale is full of praise for the midfielder, but knows where he has to strengthen.
He said: “Matt is a player I signed as a eight year-old at Chelsea and when I arrived at Liverpool we continued where we left off. Matt needs time for his physical development and technical excellence to align. He has a very bright future ahead.”
It is been the traditional route in recent seasons for U21 players to go out on loan in a bid to gain valuable first team experience. Jurgen Klopp has publicly stated his opinions on the loan system, and Beale emphasises his point, although believes a loan spell can be beneficial to certain players.
“Naturally the manager has a huge influence on decisions made around the young players who are close to the first team squad. Jurgen Klopp is keen on players staying in house and fighting for a chance to play. He has followed up these words with appearances for a huge number of U21 players in the first team and this has been excellent for the whole academy.”
“A loan spell has a big benefit for players who are not yet involved in the first team or need a bridge between U21 level and the first team. However, each case should be made on an individual basis,” he said.
Liverpool U21s are next in action on Thursday evening when they travel to a Middlesbrough side who are just two points below the Reds.