U21s previewBarry Lewtas on Burnley cup test, Koumas quality and McConnell pride

By Steve Hunter


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Barry Lewtas has spoken of the different challenges his young players have faced at U21 level so far and why it will benefit them hugely in their future careers.

Liverpool U21s return to action this evening when they face Burnley in the opening round of the Lancashire FA Senior Cup at the FA County Ground in Leyland, with kick-off set for 7pm GMT and the game live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO.

It is a competition the young Reds have won 13 times – the last triumph coming in 2022 when a stunning strike from James Norris edged out Burnley 1-0 in the final.

Having recently qualified for the knockout stages of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy for the first time, Lewtas’ young charges are setting high standards for themselves.

Ahead of tonight’s game, read on as the head coach speaks to Liverpoolfc.com about the exposure to senior football his young players are experiencing so far this season…

On not having played since November 7 away at Barrow…

It’s obviously strange for us as the last couple of seasons there hasn’t been many breaks in the calendar, so we are all kind of twitchy and can’t wait to get back playing. But I think also it has probably been a good time to have a bit of a break because we have had a lot of younger players playing at this level in quite senior games, so we are now ready to go again.

NOW: Watch Burnley v LFC U21s in Lancashire FA Senior Cup

LiveNOW: Watch Burnley v LFC U21s in Lancashire FA Senior CupWatch Liverpool U21s’ Lancashire FA Senior Cup tie against Burnley live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO now.

On qualifying for the knockout stages of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy, with a trip to face Bradford City up next…

That was really good of Critch [Neil Critchley] with Blackpool getting the win to send us through! We will call it a joint effort on that one! I thought we were really competitive in all of our three group games. I thought Blackpool was a real standout test for us. They are a good team with a big squad under Critch, and that last 15 minutes was really tough on us. No complaints from me on the result on the night but I just thought for such a young team we acquitted ourselves really well.

I felt [at] Morecambe we were really good value for the 3-0 win and then Barrow, again we competed really well and I thought it was a really good game. With us going through on goal difference, it just made everything count. Against Barrow, we almost got the equaliser. In previous years we maybe wouldn’t have come back and conceded more goals, so that has to be a really positive sign with all the blocks the centre-backs made and all the saves the goalkeeper made. It all ended up contributing to getting us through, which is really special. We will look forward to the trip to Bradford City, another great test for us against a good team.

On tonight’s trip to face Burnley…

We played Burnley in the final a couple of years ago, which was an unbelievably tough game and it took a fantastic strike from Chuck [James Norris] to win us the cup. For us, it’s a really good competition to play in because you get to play against a few senior teams and teams who maybe play a bit different as well and offer us a different challenge. Burnley are not a team we play regularly, so we are really excited for this game.

On 18-year-old Lewis Koumas stepping up to be a regular at U21 level this season…

Lewis has been brilliant for us, he really has. He is a real energetic frontline player, loves to run in behind, he is aggressive in how he approaches the game and has really good technique. He is a really good footballer. He has fitted in great with the lads, he has a fantastic character and he just gets on with it, he really does. The other day when we were talking about Lewis, you forget he is still an U18 player. He has really matured the way he plays.

Against Barrow, playing against a senior backline, I thought he was great for us and for them he was an absolute nuisance, the way he played and approached the game. I’m really pleased for Lewis. He has shown good versatility playing across the frontline this season and he is a player who has made massive progress this year. In fairness, he has carried that on because I thought he was fantastic last season for the U18s.

On his young group getting a lot of exposure against senior players…

It’s brilliant and that is what we want. For us, day in, day out, that is our group and you sometimes forget the ages of some of the lads. When I sit down and reflect on certain games and certain moments, it has been nice to see how well the boys have acquitted themselves and how they have coped with different challenges.

We have had two 16-year-olds at centre-back in Carter Pinnington and Amara Nallo. Josh Davidson has had to play out of position for us at left-back in certain games. We’ve mentioned Koumas. Trey Nyoni at 16 playing against Barrow. Kieran Morrison has played and been excellent. Afolami Onanuga who did ever so well for us out of position against Blackpool. That is a real positive for us.

The boys have done well and they are also very demanding on themselves and we are demanding on them as well. We approach every game in the normal way in terms of how we want to play and we want to win as well, so it is really exciting to see how this group is progressing.

On James McConnell making his senior debut recently and taking the captain’s armband at U21 level…

Macca has been fantastic for us. He is only a young boy himself, played a lot of U18s football last season, plus the UEFA Youth League for the U19s and did really well. He was around the U21s a touch last season but this year he has stepped up and done ever so well. He has done well in our games. I think he has been a real good consistent performer and then had real good exposure with the first team and day-to-day training. He has had a couple of really nice moments so far and moments he will treasure forever, and hopefully there is more to come.



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