AcademyBarry Lewtas on Braga draw, Jake Cain departure and Premier League 2 form

Published 20th January 2023
By Steve Hunter

Liverpool U21s boss Barry Lewtas insists the experiences of the Premier League International Cup will be of big benefit to his players.

After two impressive wins over Dinamo Zagreb and Paris Saint-Germain, the Reds settled for a point on Wednesday night in a tough goalless draw with Portuguese outfit SC Braga, who were reduced to 10 players early on in the contest.

Lewtas’ charges remain in a strong position in their group, sitting second behind leaders Everton with just one game left to play when they host Hertha BSC at the Academy.

The top two finishers in each group progress to the knockout rounds and are joined by the two best third-placed teams.

Liverpool U21s are back in action on Sunday when they host Crystal Palace in Premier League 2 at the Academy, with kick-off set for 1pm GMT.

Read on as U21s head coach Lewtas reflects on the draw with Braga, his team’s current form and the departure of midfielder Jake Cain to Swindon Town…

On the eventful goalless draw with SC Braga…

It was. We knew it was going to be a tough night in terms of the opposition. They play in the third division in Portugal and I’m not one to balance off the age, but they were a lot older, a lot more senior and experienced than us. It was a tough night but I thought we approached the game extremely well.

On why it can be tough playing against 10 players following the early sending off…

It can because it poses a different kind of challenge to you. They were content with sitting in and you’ve got to try to solve those problems. I also felt when they went down to 10 our players suddenly found an expectation that they had to win the game, where I felt we had started ever so well when it was 11 v 11.

On not taking the chances that came their way…

We had some chances. Max Woltman will be disappointed he didn’t put away the one he had right at the start of the second half. He normally puts them away, but that’s the way it goes. We brought Max on a bit earlier than we thought because of the injury to Melkamu Frauendorf, so it was good to give him some minutes after his return from loan. It’s great to have him back around the place as he’s a great character.

Fabian Mrozek also made a couple of great saves for us. To be fair, it was probably a game where I don’t think either goalkeeper was worked enough, so that was a frustrating part for us. I thought we worked the ball up to the box well, then could have done a bit better in the final third. We want to win every game but I also said to the boys it was important we didn’t lose it because we want to qualify from this group. In the end, people might say we should have won it against 10 men, but it could also end up being a good point for us. When we look back at who we were playing against in terms of their experience, it was a fantastic night for our young side in that respect.

On being unfortunate to lose to both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United recently…

We have. Tottenham was always going to be a hard task when we went down to 10 men early in the game. The Manchester United one was an excellent game. They were really good on the day and I thought we were as well. We were disappointed to come away from that game with nothing as we had a few great opportunities, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I think performance-wise our four games since Christmas have been really good. Obviously there’s parts of our game we want to be better at, but let’s see how we go.

We have Crystal Palace next on Sunday and we are looking forward to it. I think every game in Premier League 2 is tough this season and there’s a real kind of consistency across the teams. Anyone can beat anyone, the level is good and we will certainly have to be at our best again when Sunday comes around.

On one of his FA Youth Cup heroes Jake Cain making a permanent move to Swindon Town…

It’s a great move for Jake and I’m really pleased for him. It’s an end of an era. Jake has been in my groups most of the way through the Academy from a young age. I’m really sad to see him leave because I’ll certainly miss him as a person, but as a career move it’s a fantastic opportunity for him. As a club, Swindon Town certainly seem to be investing in young players and competing at the right end of the table as well, so I’m sure Jake can go there and add a lot to the team.

Tom Clayton, who we know really well of course, will look after him up there. In Tom and now Jake, Swindon have got two nice left footers, so I’m really excited for them. Although they leave our Academy, they never really leave because we are always in touch with them and they will always be part of the family.

Published 20th January 2023