By Scott Taylor
Neil Critchley’s Liverpool U18s are looking to bounce back from three straight defeats when they travel to Fulham in the Premier League play-offs tomorrow afternoon. The Reds have played two games so far, suffering defeats against Reading and Blackburn as well as being knocked out of the FA Youth Cup against Arsenal. They face a Fulham side who are unbeaten in the final stage so far, with one win and a draw from their two games.
Liverpool will be without goalkeeper Shamal George, who underwent knee surgery earlier this week, so Caiomhin Kelleher or Owen Wheeler is expected to deputise. U16 goalkeeper Kamil Grabara played for Poland U17s this week and will not be back in Liverpool in time for the clash.
The Reds have been in their worst form of the season, losing five of their last eight matches in all competitions. However, Critchley’s side do have the quality to rediscover their earlier season form where they went on a 14-match unbeaten run, remaining unbeaten in September, October and November.
Liverpool have scored 63 goals in all competitions this season, with three players in attack standing out. Ben Woodburn was just 15 years of age at the start of the season, and the Wales U17 captain has scored 10 goals, with plenty of assists, including a wonder strike against Cardiff in the FA Youth Cup in January. Toni Gomes is another striker who has come in at the start of the season, and has made a big impact. With 12 goals in all competitions this season, he is the Academy’s leading scorer. Former West Brom striker
Yan Dhanda has also impressed. After signing his first professional contract, he has scored eight goals this season, including the sole goal in the 4-1 defeat to Reading.
Another positive for Liverpool is that they can also score goals from midfielder, with captain Trent Alexander-Arnold and Adam Phillips both scoring six goals this season. The Reds have not plaued since 19 March, but several of the players have featured for their country in the last two weeks.
Fulham have been preparing for the game with five friendlies, picking up morale boosting victories against the USA U20s and Fluminense U19s. Steve Wigley’s side come into the game with Liverpool in a rich vain of form, losing just once in their last nine games, that coming in a 2-1 defeat to Everton U19s on Sunday. Before that, they went on a run where they won eight of the last ten matches, remaining unbeaten in November and December.
Fulham finished the first phase of the U18 Premier League in third place, with 39 points from their 22 games, winning 12, drawing 3 and losing 7 games. The Cottagers also had the third strongest defence in the league, conceding just 29 goals in the whole campaign, one goal more than the Reds. Liverpool have a slight advantage in front of goal as well, scoring 45 goals, one more than Fulham in the campaign. However, the Championship side have produced players such as Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele in recent seasons, so the Cottagers are blessed with young talent.
Kick-Off at Motspur Park is at 11am, but the game will not be broadcast of LFCTV.