AcademyU18s mini-derby preview: 'Focus on ourselves and don't play the occasion'
Marc Bridge-Wilkinson has urged his Liverpool U18s side to focus on themselves and not the occasion when they face Everton in the mini-derby at Finch Farm.
After eight games in U18 Premier League North this term, the young Reds are in third spot and sit four points behind leaders Sunderland.
Former Everton full-back Leighton Baines, meanwhile, sees his Blues U18s outfit lie in 11th place in the division ahead of Saturday's contest.
Bridge-Wilkinson's team last featured in league action on October 29, when they suffered a narrow 1-0 loss away at Wolverhampton Wanderers, and were beaten 4-3 in the U18 Premier League Cup the following weekend against the same opposition.
To keep his squad fit and ready, the young Reds also recently competed in a tournament in Portugal, facing the likes of PSV Eindhoven, SC Braga, Sydney FC and Odense.
Read on as Bridge-Wilkinson chats to Liverpoolfc.com about the campaign so far, and the challenge of facing Everton away from home...
On his assessment of 2022-23 from an U18s point of view…
It's been tough, being honest, as we expected. We've got a young group this year and it's a little bit different to the dynamic we have had in the previous few years. The challenge is there, the boys have accepted that, and they are stepping up to it and giving it a really good go. Hopefully, we are showing improvements along the way.
We have had a few injuries to key players at the back and it has been tough, but we look at it as though when players miss out it gives others an opportunity. Other boys get the chance to showcase themselves, so someone else will always gain from an injury or a suspension.
On taking the team to Portugal to play in a tournament…
It's always a fantastic experience for the young boys to travel and represent the club in these tournaments. We were a really young group in comparison to a lot of the teams there. It was tough, physically tough, and mentally tough, but the lads stood up to it and they showed good character. It was a situation where we knew going into it, it was going to be difficult. The lads understood the challenge that was ahead of them and gave it everything they have got.
On the impact by striker Lewis Koumas, who has netted 11 goals this season…
Lewis has done quite well. He's just got to keep it up. He can't rest on his laurels, and he can't think that he's made it and he's cracked it because he has still got so much more to do. It's about character, focus and making sure he is pushing himself every day to achieve what he wants to do in football.
2021-22 highlights: Everton 1-3 Liverpool U18s
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On the fitness of full-backs Josh Davidson and Calum Scanlon…
It was good to give Josh the full 90 minutes in our friendly against Luton Town, he needed that and will be all the better for it. It was nice to see him back out there. Calum Scanlon has been out all season, but he is back in training now, which is great for him and us. Wellity Lucky is back on the grass and doing more work, so hopefully in the next three or four weeks we'll have a few more players back in the squad.
On what his message will be to his players ahead of the mini-derby with Everton…
Well, you shouldn't need to say a lot really, should you?! It's the next game for us and it's definitely one we are all looking forward to. It's about playing the way we play, playing with focus and with belief in the way that we play the game.
Don't play the occasion, but it is another game. I know it's against Everton, which makes it a little bit more interesting, but ultimately if we focus on ourselves and the way that we play then hopefully that will bring us success.