AcademyU21s preview: Crystal Palace finale, season highlights and Blair threat
As Liverpool U21s prepare to bring their Premier League 2 season to a close at Crystal Palace on Saturday, head coach Barry Lewtas is a proud man.
Players such as Stefan Bajcetic and Ben Doak have enjoyed opportunities with the first team, as have the likes of Layton Stewart, who fulfilled a childhood dream by making his debut in front of the Kop after being out for 13 months with an ACL injury.
Lewtas’ charges sit in second spot in the division, while the young Eagles lie fourth just a point behind the Reds.
Palace have defeated Liverpool twice this season already at the Kirkby Academy, with the recent encounter coming in the quarter-finals of the Premier League International Cup.
Lewtas’ side are ending the campaign in terrific form and enjoyed a brilliant 4-0 win at Fulham last weekend in their penultimate fixture.
This weekend's meeting against the Eagles kicks off at 1pm BST at the Crystal Palace training ground.
Read on as Lewtas reflects on the campaign as a whole, and looks ahead to the final Premier League 2 fixture of 2022-23…
On last weekend’s 4-0 win at Fulham…
It was an excellent performance against a real good team. We knew how tough the game was against them earlier on in the season despite how well we played. Fulham have done well again this season and I thought on the day we were excellent.
U21s highlights: Fulham 0-4 Liverpool
On Harvey Blair netting twice…
Harvey took them really well, his second one in particular was an unbelievable finish. His first goal came from really good pressing by us, and the own goal came from Harvey chasing a ball down and putting them under pressure with the back pass.
On Blair and James Norris being nominated for Premier League 2 Player of the Month for April…
They have been brilliant, they really have. Harvey has been a real threat for us down the sides, while Chuck [Norris] has been excellent in central midfield. You have certain moments in the season where you are looking for a kind of energy and we have that in abundance but during April, Harvey gave us that real injection of pace along with Ben Doak down the right flank. Chuck has added real drive and momentum from the middle of the pitch, so they have both been brilliant for us.
On Saturday’s final outing of 2022-23 at Crystal Palace…
It has been a very good season, a long season, a lot of work and training has gone into it, but we are also a bit disappointed it is coming to an end, especially the way we’ve been playing. We have played Crystal Palace twice this season and lost both games at home 1-0.
It’s fair to say on the balance of play they were both close games and in fairness to them we have found them quite hard to break down at times and when we had good chances we just didn’t manage to finish them off. They defend really well, they are organised and they attack well in transition in particular. We know we are in for a real test and we know what we are up against, but we are hoping we have got some solutions to the problems that they have posed us in the past.
On his reflections of 2022-23 for the U21s…
I think it has been excellent, split into lots of different things for us in terms of lads who have been out on loan and done very well, lads who have had first-team opportunities like Stefan Bajcetic, Ben Doak and Layton Stewart. Some lads left us as well to go into the Football League and it has been great to see how they have progressed on their journeys.
From a campaign point of view, the lads have been brilliant. I think we have been really consistent in our level of performance. We’ve obviously not won every game but we have won a lot. I think we have shown we can compete with some really good teams in Premier League 2.
I think we have been unbelievably competitive and to do it the times we have done, including the UEFA Youth League and the Premier League International Cup, to maintain that consistency has probably been the real highlight for me.