Gerrard on U19s squad strength and selection headaches

Steven Gerrard has spoken of the challenges he has faced in selecting his U19 team for the UEFA Youth League this season.

The young Reds sealed their qualification for the last 16 of the competition with a game to spare by beating Sevilla 4-0 away last month.

Spartak Moscow visit Prenton Park on Wednesday lunchtime in the final group game with the squad hoping to produce another eye-catching display in Europe.

In an exclusive chat with this month’s edition of The Academy Show on LFCTV, Gerrard has revealed how the help of U23s boss Neil Critchley has made the transition of managing the U18s and U19s a comfortable one.

“It's been easy because the staff have got around me, from a personal point of view, so having the help of Neil Critchley, he brings five or six of his players down, the likes of George Johnston, Conor Masterson, Herbie Kane, obviously Ben Woodburn and Rhian Brewster,” Gerrard told Liverpoolfc.com.

“The quality of those players and the leaders within those players strengthens the U18s group, so the transition has been straightforward.

“The only thing I'd say from a footy point of view is, we don't get much time to prepare for the UEFA Youth League games.

“So for example, on a Saturday, Critch might be playing a game in the U23s and I might have a game on the Saturday. The players normally recover on a Sunday, or have a day off on Sunday, so if our game's Tuesday we'd only get one day with them, if it's Wednesday we get two.

“It's not as if we have a full week build-up as a U19s group, so it has been challenging in terms of getting a lot of information in for them, but good players, and good people, absorb more information than your average player. And we're blessed here to have good players.”

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Woodburn, despite only being 18 himself, is classed as one of the senior players in the group. The Wales international has captained the U19 side in the UEFA Youth League this season and played in every single one of the group games.

Gerrard insists the attitude of players moving down from Melwood to join his group has been first-class as the young hopefuls strive to try and impress Jürgen Klopp.

He added: “The likes of Ben and Rhian, they're friends, they've grown up through the system.

“At the Academy they're in my age group, obviously they've moved on or progressed a little bit quicker, but you can see smiles on their faces, they're not coming down here thinking it's a chore to come back to the U18s or the U19s. They're often in the dressing room and the canteen laughing and joking together.

“So I think the likes of Ben, Rhian and the other players are actually enjoying being around the group, being around their own friends, and I think they also realise that the UEFA Youth League, the club takes it very, very seriously.

“I think if you're bright as a player, you think, ‘Hang on, the manager has released me to go and play for the U19s here, the manager must be taking it seriously’.

“So if Jürgen's taking it serious, why shouldn't it be serious for these players? Because he's watching the games, he gets a report on the games as well, so it's a good opportunity for them.

“If you want to be a consistent footballer at the top, it doesn't matter what your game is, whether it's an international against Brazil, whether it's a friendly against Leicester, you've got to be able to approach the game with the right mentality and the right attitude.

“If you've got aspirations of staying at the top and finding consistency and having the right mentality, you have to take every game like it's the last game you're going to play in.

“You have to take every training session like it's the last training session you're going to play in. That's the only way to be a top player. If you think you can pick and choose and switch on and off, you'll get found out.”

The former captain also spoke about selection headaches when it comes to selecting his starting XI for the UEFA Youth League.

For the last game against Sevilla, Gerrard decided to restore Brewster back to his team following the young striker’s starring role in England's U17 World Cup win.

Explaining his selection process, Gerrard said: “We've seen some of the squads for those U19 games, with 18, 19 travelling, some of them are going to be disappointed at the end of it.

“It's tough. I think we found it OK at U19 level because we've put a lot of young kids on the bench for experience, and we're hoping that the first team qualify for the Champions League again and they get a chance to be starters further down the line, so we're taking them for experience, but there has been one or two decisions within that that have been very tough.

“We had to put Bobby Adekanye on the bench in the last game, and he didn't deserve to be on the bench. But you've got Rhian [Brewster] returning, who's just won a World Cup, who played well before he left, and they're the decisions you've got to make.

“Between us all, when we were discussing teams and stuff, we all had it slightly different.

“But that's what you've got to do as a manager and that's the reason why you'll either get praise or you'll get fired.

“You've got to make those big calls, and we made a big call in Seville, and thankfully it worked.

“At U18 level it's been, I wouldn't say straightforward, but the team, up until probably three or four weeks ago, has picked itself. Fingers crossed, if everyone stays healthy, we'll have some headaches in the near weeks.”

The U19s face Spartak Moscow in the UEFA Youth League at Prenton Park on Wednesday, with kick-off set for 12.30pm GMT. If you want to attend the match admission is free for season ticket holders and LFC Members simply by showing your card, otherwise just £3 for adults and £1 for children on the gate.