AcademyU21s preview: Feyenoord test, Bobby Clark return and Jay Spearing influence

By Steve Hunter


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Barry Lewtas is hoping his Liverpool U21s side can end a highly productive year on a strong note when they host Feyenoord in the Premier League International Cup tonight.

It’s the final outing of the year for the young Reds with kick-off set for 7pm GMT, and it’s a game you can watch live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO.

After a narrow 2-1 loss to AS Monaco and a 1-1 draw with SL Benfica so far, Liverpool U21s are aiming for their first win in the competition this season.

Dutch side Feyenoord have been on Merseyside all week and played out a goalless draw with Everton in the competition on Tuesday night.

Lewtas’ charges returned to winning ways last Sunday when they beat Chelsea 2-1 in Kirkby thanks to a last-minute winner from Bobby Clark, who came off the bench to mark his return from a two-month lay-off through injury in style.

Ahead of tonight’s fixture, read on as U21s head coach Lewtas speaks with about a really positive year for the Academy…

On the final outing of 2023…

The season goes quickly and this will be a really good test. For us, we’ve been performing well overall but there’s moments in games we can get better at and there’s always room for improvement. We are really looking forward to this game against Feyenoord and it’s another big challenge for us.

On the return to fitness of Clark, who has also signed a new, long-term LFC contract…

That was a great moment for Bobby and for us. He is itching to get back and he has worked ever so hard on his rehab, he really has. It was great to be able to give him a runout and with the quality that he has got he was able to come on and be the difference for us. It was a fantastic goal.

On the win over Chelsea…

It was a good win but it was a tough win because, to be fair, for the first 30 minutes they were excellent. They created chances and controlled the game but Marcelo Pitaluga made some big saves. I told the players at half-time we dug in well and we cleared, blocked and showed lots of personality. In the second half we continued to improve and in the end being resilient in that first 30 minutes is what allowed us to get it over the line.

On the influence of player-coach Jay Spearing, who came off the bench to provide a superb assist for Clark’s winner…

The game changed when Jay came on, it’s like he is 19 again! We changed the team quite a lot so players would be available for the FA Youth Cup tie at Fleetwood, which is important for the boys to be involved in that. Jay is massively important for us. We are a really young group this year and when you’ve got Jay playing in front of two very young centre-backs in Carter Pinnington and Amara Nallo, he is there to support them. He also supports Trey Nyoni when James McConnell is with the first team, so his support is invaluable.

He can have a massive effect on the players off the pitch but on the pitch it is very evident he supports these players, in terms of not just being encouraging but also demanding of them as well. Jay is brilliant and taking the player-coach role apart he was fantastic against Chelsea and made a big difference. That is so good for the other boys to see and I also thought Jay supported Tommy Pilling really well in the game. Tommy grew in confidence with Jay alongside him.

On what he is expecting from Feyenoord…

I have to say, the games have been really tough so far in this competition. We were edged out by Monaco and I thought we did OK there. Benfica was a real challenge because it was their B team so we did well in that one. I think as the season has gone on this young team we have has really started to grow the way in which we are playing, we are improving in all parts of our game and as a group.

Game by game we are getting better and better so we have got to go out there and show Feyenoord what we are capable of. We know they are going to be good, the nature of Feyenoord, it’s a huge club in the Netherlands with a huge reputation of developing players. This is the next batch on their conveyor belt but we will concentrate on ourselves and try to be the best version of ourselves.



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