Steven Gerrard is 'licking his lips' at the prospect of managing Liverpool U19s in their UEFA Youth League knockout tie with Manchester United later this month.
The north-west rivals were paired against each other in Friday’s last-16 draw and will face off at Prenton Park on the afternoon of Wednesday February 21.
Having shadowed the senior team in their Champions League group-stage campaign – facing Maribor, Sevilla and Spartak Moscow – Gerrard’s charges now go solo in the remainder of the competition.
In providing his immediate reaction to the draw, the Reds legend admitted he is relishing the opportunity ahead and called on his players to rise to the importance of the occasion.
Read on for the full Q&A with Liverpoolfc.com…
Was it fate we were going to draw United?
I had a funny feeling it would be one of the English teams. Obviously it makes it a little bit juicier that it’s United. It’s a great game for us and nice to have home advantage. I’m looking forward to it; it’s a great tie for the lads, a great experience in a one-off knockout game. We’ll give it our best. I’m licking my lips at the prospect of that one.
Does the players’ reaction to the draw suggest they believe they can go far in the competition?
They should believe that they can. The way they performed in the group stage, and earned the right to miss the play-off game, they performed very well. But the message from us as staff is that it’s going to get a lot tougher. You can get away with a bad performance in the group stage, like we did with Spartak away. We can’t afford any complacency or to turn up and not deliver, we need to be right on it. Our best team going into this game is capable of winning – it’s as simple as that. It’s a blow not having Rhian Brewster, who would help us immensely, but there should be confidence and belief within the group that they can stay in the competition. It will be tough, United have got good players and are a good team. They will be organised and it will be a very good test for us.
We have had good games against United…
I’m pleased that the lads’ reaction is one of positivity. We could have drawn anyone and it would have been a challenge and a test. It’s a little bit bigger because it’s a local team; they’ll know a lot about us and we’ll know a lot about them. But it’ll all boil down to whoever performs better on the day as a collective group – hopefully it’s us.
It would be an away trip to Manchester City or Inter Milan in the quarter-finals…
Yes, but it’s pointless to discuss it. I’m not one for predicting further down the line in competitions. As a player, I always worried about what was in front of me – the next game or the next round. There is no point worrying about what is waiting for you in the quarter-final. You’ve got to take care of the last-16 game first. United are not going to turn up and lie down, they’re going to come and play well and put a lot of pressure on us. They come as slight underdogs just because they haven’t got home advantage, so it takes a little bit of pressure away from them and it’s over to us. We have to handle that, live with it and perform under that pressure.
Have you seen greater maturity in these players from playing in Europe?
If you look at individual players – the likes of Curtis [Jones], Rafa [Camacho], Adam Lewis, Liam Millar – when they have gone up to the U23s they have done themselves no harm at all. A few of them have been invited to train with the first team of late, and reports say they have handled it really well with maturity. I’m not sure those players would have been able to handle that six months ago or even 12 months ago. We’re really pleased with the development, not just on the pitch but off the pitch as well. Watching the first team when they’re on European trips goes a long way because the first team always set the example for the young lads to follow. The first team have done a good job and the lads have matured a lot.
You’re on your own now, which brings about its own special pressure?
There is always pressure in this competition. Alex, when we took the role – myself and Critch – let us know it’s a big one. We have handled the pressure very well so far but that does get more and more the more you progress in the competition. I’m glad the first team are still in, they have got a tough tie themselves against Porto but they’re capable of qualifying. We look forward to that. We need to do our job as well, and try to keep the club – both at youth level and first-team level – in the competition as long as possible.