Liverpool U19s are 90 minutes away from a European semi-final as they prepare for a UEFA Youth League showdown with Manchester City on Wednesday afternoon.
Having topped their group with five wins out of six against NK Maribor, Sevilla and Spartak Moscow, the Reds side – led by Steven Gerrard – defeated Manchester United 2-0 in the last 16.
Goals from Ben Woodburn and Rafael Camacho carried the youngsters to a memorable victory at Prenton Park and set up another mouth-watering all-English contest at the quarter-final stage tomorrow.
Here is the story of the two teams’ exploits in the tournament so far…
The group stage
Liverpool started as they meant to go on in Group E, thrashing Sevilla 4-0 at home courtesy of a Curtis Jones first-half double and further strikes from Herbie Kane and Conor Masterson.
Their intentions to set the pace suffered a blow in the very next match, however.
Adam Lewis cracked a superb drive into the bottom corner to put the Reds in front in Russia but Spartak Moscow overturned the early deficit to serve the visitors a timely reminder of the demands in the tournament.
“This is an excellent competition and we want to do well in it. We are capable of doing that but we’ve had two performances and they have been very different,” said Gerrard.
“Moving forward I’m very confident that when they come over to England we’ve got enough quality and enough talent to do a job on them, but we have to play as a team.”
The manager’s words certainly had the desired effect.
Liverpool scored 13 times and conceded only once in the remaining four matches, beating Maribor home and away, repeating a 4-0 result over Sevilla in Spain, and gaining revenge against Spartak to seal top spot in style.
For their part, City set off at a blistering pace in Group F.
Four consecutive victories in a tricky section containing Feyenoord, Shakhtar Donetsk and Napoli established the Manchester club as its dominant force.
A goalless home draw with the Dutch outfit and defeat by Shakhtar took the shine off slightly, but they nevertheless claimed first place by a four-point margin.
The last 16
The first knockout round threw up a crunch clash for Gerrard’s charges in the form of United, who were tasked with taking on the young Reds at the home of Tranmere Rovers last month.
With Woodburn an influential figure and scorer of the opening goal 11 minutes in, Liverpool held their rivals at arm’s length and booked a quarter-final berth when substitute Camacho lashed a dipping hit into the far corner shortly after coming on.
It was a more arduous affair for City at home to Inter Milan, though.
Their captain, Lukas Nmecha, equalised the Italians’ early opener from the penalty spot, but there was nothing else to separate the sides – despite the hosts’ 14 shots to their opponents’ five.
A shootout was therefore required and City held their nerve better from 12 yards, edging the spot-kicks 3-2.
The key players
Gerrard has enjoyed the advantage of a reliable line-up throughout the tournament, with eight players featuring in every single game to date – Woodburn notably among them.
Jones is the most prolific of the Reds’ attacking talents with four strikes but the scoring has been a real team effort with 11 different names on the scoresheet.
The only City player to clock up all seven matches of the campaign so far is Welsh forward Rabbi Matondo, while their top scorer is Taylor Richards with three goals.
Phil Foden, an U17 World Cup winner with England alongside Liverpool’s injured Rhian Brewster, has played three times for the club in this competition this season.
The winners of this one-off tie will progress to the tournament’s finals in Nyon in late April.
A semi-final clash with either Atletico Madrid or Barcelona awaits, while the other half of the draw includes Chelsea, FC Porto, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur.