Academy'The opportunity the manager gives our young players is phenomenal'

Published 18th December 2021
By Steve Hunter

Barry Lewtas has spoken of his pride at seeing six Academy graduates make their debuts so far in 2021-22.

Max Woltman's appearance off the bench at San Siro against AC Milan in the Champions League meant the forward followed Tyler Morton, Conor Bradley, Kaide Gordon, Owen Beck and Harvey Blair in making their senior bows this term.

Liverpool U23s bring their calendar year to a close on Sunday when they host Premier League 2 leaders West Ham United at the Academy, with kick-off set for 2pm GMT.

Although there have been mixed results for the squad so far this season, Academy staff have been heartened at seeing several young players get an opportunity at the highest level.

Read on as Lewtas reflects on the first half of 2021-22 and looks ahead to the clash with the Hammers…

On seeing six Academy players make their senior debuts so far this season…

For us, we can review the season so far in lots of different ways. There has been some players who have shown some really big progress over the course of the first half of the season and they have had good access and an opportunity with the first team, which is the job. A lot of our lads have played in the U19 UEFA Youth League team and finished top of the group. When two wins were needed at home to Atletico Madrid and Porto they put two really good performances in.

On watching Woltman make his debut in Italy...

It was fantastic to see Max make his first-team debut at the San Siro in the Champions League. Max has worked tirelessly for the team this season and at times I've felt we haven't been able to help him more and get more players closer to him. Max has scored some important goals for us and he works ever so hard, so it was really nice to see that reward at the San Siro. I know it was only a couple of minutes but it's probably the best couple of minutes of his young life so far!

I always say time and time again, the opportunity our manager and his coaching staff give our young players is phenomenal. The quality of that first-team squad, it's one of the best squads in the world and at the minute we are fortunate to have young players not only around them training day in, day out, but also to get that opportunity on a matchday. We are unbelievably lucky to have staff who believe in the Academy, but obviously our job is to make sure we continue to prepare these young players in the right way to get that opportunity.

On a great start to the season for Bradley, who achieved his Reds debut and first start for Northern Ireland at senior level…

Conor was a young player playing for the U23s last season and he had some really tough moments. You can see now 18 months down the line how they helped his progress. We had a long list last year of his direct opponents he came up against and there were some tough tests for him. Conor had some tough days but good days as well and he never shirked a challenge. I think this season you can see the benefit of that. Physically, he looks really good and technically he has made big improvements both in and out of possession. He is playing with more confidence now and along with Owen Beck on the other side, they have been a real attacking threat for us this season, so the pair of them have made really good progress.

On Sunday's final game of 2021 against West Ham…

We are expecting a tough game. This first half of the season has showed that there is no easy game in Premier League 2. Every game has brought its own challenges, whether that be technically, tactically or physically. It's a really good competition this season and we are playing a team that is flying high at the top of Premier League 2. We played them recently so we know what strengths they have, but we are looking forward to it and it's another good challenge for us.

On how big a step up it is playing in Premier League 2 compared to U18 and U19 level…

It is a step up playing in Premier League 2 and the level of the game and level of competition has been good. We've kept everything in perspective and of course we are disappointed with some of the results and a few of the performances. We've had a few issues that we have tried to iron out. Hopefully we can continue to work on that and we will see where we go in the second half of the season.

Published 18th December 2021