Academy'It's great to score more than 100 goals but we could have got more'

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By Steve Hunter

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When Liverpool U18s boss Marc Bridge-Wilkinson looks back on the 2021-22 campaign, it is one that fills him with pride – but also leaves him wanting more from his team in the future.

With just one fixture left, away to Newcastle United on Saturday morning, the young Reds have guaranteed second spot in the U18 Premier League North behind champions Manchester City.

Bridge-Wilkinson’s side have scored 101 goals so far this season and entertained with some thrilling performances, such as the recent 10-3 win over Leeds United at the Academy.

Read on as the U18s boss reflects on a season of promise and why he wants his team to end their campaign in style this weekend…

On his overall thoughts on the 2021-22 season…

It has been a long season and we have played a lot of games with the return of the UEFA Youth League and other competitions as well. There has been a lot of games to play so it has been really good for the lads. Everyone has played lots of minutes and it has been pleasing. We never really had a settled team because of the way the season has been with the injuries we picked up at certain times. Every player, bar the ones that haven’t been able to play, have played a lot of games.

Ultimately, if we want them to be as good as they can be in terms of being a professional footballer they have got to play games to improve. The lads will look back on the season and think we could have achieved that little bit more. I definitely do. When you talk about the FA Youth Cup and the way we lost to Chelsea having been 3-0 up, it’s one of those things we will all learn from and all improve for it.

U18s highlights: Liverpool 10-3 Leeds United

On scoring 101 goals in all competitions so far…

We could have scored more! If you look at some of the games and think back to the chances we didn’t take, I think you have to say we should have scored more goals. That being said, the way I like to play the game and the way the lads want to play, whatever team we put out we have got players in the team that can create and score goals. We’ve got to give them every opportunity of doing that and it does put extra pressure on the lads at the back because we do leave them a little bit more exposed than perhaps other teams would. We missed Luca Stephenson, who was out for over three months with injury, and he protects the backline really well for us.

On Oakley Cannonier netting 41 goals so far, including 28 in the league…

Oakley has done well. The big pleasing fact about Oakley is the fact he’s playing lots of games, especially with the history he has had in recent years with injuries. He has been really unfortunate and really unlucky with the injuries he has picked up and that’s why he missed our run to the FA Youth Cup final last season. The main aim this season was to get him back playing football regularly again and introduce him back to a two- or three-game week. That’s all gone really well, he’s made 41 appearances in actual games this season, which is good. Obviously he has scored a lot of goals as well, which is really pleasing.

He can be really pleased with himself. He’s enjoyed his football and he has worked hard in the gym, he worked hard in the off-season and he’s worked hard at doing some stuff that maybe others haven’t had to do. He deserves a lot of credit for the work he has done behind the scenes. It’s not as easy as people think scoring the amount of goals that he has, so he deserves a lot of credit for getting into those right areas week in, week out, and finishing them off.

On the versatility of promising left-back Luke Chambers, who has had to play the majority of the campaign at centre-half due to injuries…

Chambo has done really well. As a second-year, I think he looks really comfortable at the level. He has had a really consistent season with some outstanding performances. He also had a little injury this season as well. It’s been disappointing that he’s had to play so many games at centre-back for us but we know he can do it and in future years he might play there again. We’d all liked to have seen him play more for us at left-back because he has a lot of quality there.

On a pleasing run in the UEFA Youth League that saw the Reds reach the quarter-finals…

It was a real mixed bag. We had some really good performances in our home games and some really dogged displays in some of the away trips. We got a draw in Porto and AC Milan. Our performance away at Atletico Madrid wasn’t great but we bounced back against them and were more like us in the home game. I think it was a really good achievement from the lads to get out of what was a tough group and to finish top of it. We beat a good side in Genk, which was a good achievement, and then we were knocked out by Juventus, who were the best team we came up against. It was a good campaign but it’s one we look back on and wanted to do better. Fingers crossed we go again next season so let’s see what happens.

On Saturday’s league season closer at Newcastle…

Hopefully we end up with a good performance, really stamp our authority on the game and end the season with a performance we can be proud of. Hopefully that comes with the win as well, it would be nice if we could score a few goals and potentially keep a clean sheet. Newcastle have a good side, obviously a club in a bit of transition so it won’t be easy and it’s a tough place to go.

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