As Liverpool U23s moved into the new AXA Training Centre this week, Barry Lewtas has urged his young players to make the most of the opportunity it brings.

The Academy are now closer to the first team than ever before and all eyes will be on every training session as the hopefuls aim to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

From a player and staff perspective, Lewtas insists everybody is ready to embrace this and carry on the excellent work that Academy manager Alex Inglethorpe has put in place.

Lewtas’ charges are back in action on Saturday as they host Southampton in Premier League 2 at 1pm GMT – a game you can watch live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO with our single-camera coverage.

Read on as Lewtas speaks about moving into new surroundings, the challenges that lie in wait, and Saturday’s meeting with Southampton.

On the U23s moving into the new AXA Training Centre…

We’ve been training next to the building for the last few months now and we’ve seen it go up gradually brick by brick. We’ve been really excited to get in for the first time and it was really nice to get the boys in this week. We are really all together now as a team. We had a fantastic time at the Academy in terms of how that ran, but we are in one building now and hopefully we can move forward and make best use of the facility. To finally get in has been fantastic. It’s a fantastic facility, so for us it’s perfect in terms of we’ve got our own gym and we are working together, which will help communication-wise. The pitches are right outside the door, it’s a perfect size, it’s a perfect set-up and we are really happy.

LFCTV GO: Watch our new episode of the Academy Show

On how the players are adapting to their new surroundings…

We are still in the COVID-19 restrictions in terms of social distancing and there’s only a certain amount of people who are in the building working. The lads were excited to go in but it’s maybe not the usual hustle and bustle a training ground is normally like at the moment, but maybe that lets the lads ease themselves in. They are made up to be in here and we’ve had plenty of discussions with the lads about what it will mean moving forwards and how it will operate and how we think it will benefit both the players and the staff. We’ve said to the lads we’ve got to respect the facility – and it smells like a new car at the moment so it’s nice.

On sharing the facility with the first team…

At the moment it’s separate in terms of there will be no mixing between the two sides for COVID-19 reasons. At the moment we have our side, which has our changing rooms, our offices, the gym and our dining facility, and on the other side is where the first-team operations are. Moving forwards, there will be plenty of opportunity for certainly staff to mix, players to mix when they move between the two groups. We’ve got a real good facility and there is access to watch our training from the balcony, so I’m sure we will come together and things work a bit closer as time moves on. At the moment, we will continue to work the way we have, which I think has worked ever so well the last few years. We are in the same building but there is a door and a wall that divides us at the minute and, as you can imagine, the reasons for that are quite clear why.

On the incentive for the young players to get the chance to train with the first team rather than having to travel to the separate facility of Melwood…

I think that was something that was always discussed – the distance between Kirkby and Melwood. One thing that I’ve always thought – and obviously more so staff previous to me – the process worked. I think we’ve shown over the last few years there’s been a number of boys who have made their way up to Melwood, whether it be temporary to support them in training or whether it has been a permanent move. There’s been quite a number of them, which has been pleasing for us. We’ve got to make sure that with this new building it’s not here just as a convenience. It’s great that we are next door and great that we can walk round to their pitches, but we’ve got to make sure that the systems that have been in place that have got players up to Melwood remain.

The only change in convenience is training. First-team staff will be able to watch us training and obviously communication amongst staff does become a lot easier when you are in the same facility. As we said to the boys, there’s more eyes on them – which is what they want. Young players want opportunity but to get that people have got to see them and I think we’ve done a good job over the last couple of years. Although we haven’t been close in terms of venue, we’ve certainly been close in ideas and boys have moved from venue to venue. We are under no illusion. It’s a fantastic facility but that’s not going to be the difference in terms of what’s going to get the players there. We’ve got to make sure the boys know the hard work is what it always was. To get to Melwood was always difficult and always demanding and it’s going to be the same now. It’s a fantastic opportunity and the boys have got to make the most of that.

On making the most of the impressive new facilities and creating good impressions…

I think it will have a huge benefit. With the first team and the U23s coming under one building now, there’s no excuses now and we have fantastic facilities outside on the grass and inside in terms of a gym and meeting rooms for both team and individual. There’s obviously the motivation 100 yards to the other side of us, which is where the first team are training and preparing their schedules. It has certainly got to serve as a motivation to these young players and I’m sure it will. The vibe and atmosphere is created by good people. It’s certainly something we try to do at the Academy and it’s something that is certainly evident at first-team level from coaching staff right down to players. Any dressing-room vibe is driven by good people and good professionals. As staff, we are in the same boat as the players. The communication over the years has been brilliant in terms of the U18s and U23s and obviously the first team, so that communication will remain. But obviously for us as staff, we will be working closer together with the first-team staff around ideas and development and how we can best support the players in making that step to the first team. For the boys it will serve as extra motivation as they know a couple of feet behind us the other way is where they want to get to.

I always say to the boys when you go with the first team, you are representing the Academy. So as well as trying to forge a career for themselves and grab an opportunity to further their career and their development, they are also going up there representing us. As many boys as we send up, we believe we have others – maybe not quite ready yet, but hopefully will be ready in months or years to come. The more players we can send up, the better. And if they can cope in training and add to the dressing room, and more importantly contributing and coping on the pitch, that represents what we are doing really well and they are, if you like, the trailblazers for the next ones coming through. So, the step up they make is really important. I’ve mentioned it so many times in the past but we really are unbelievably fortunate that we have a first-team manager and coaching staff that believe in these young players and trust them in what they are trying to do. On all levels at the Academy at the moment, we are in a really great time for us, so it’s really positive.

On a return to Premier League 2 action on Saturday against Southampton…

We are really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a really challenging game and their first team are doing extremely well at the moment, too. It will be two teams coming together both with real identities of how they want to play. In this league any team can beat anyone on the day and if you are not quite at it you will be punished for it. The quality of the teams we have been up against so far – technically, tactically and physically – has been really good and that’s testament to our players with the good results we’ve had. What has probably been more pleasing for me is more so the level of performance.