AcademyU23s update: Clarkson influence, cup progress and Stewart return
Leighton Clarkson's high-class displays for Liverpool U23s have been a pivotal part of the team's recent resurgent form, says Barry Lewtas.
The 20-year-old started the season on loan in the Championship with Blackburn Rovers, before returning to the club in January.
Clarkson's midfield performance was instrumental to Tuesday's 3-0 win over Preston North End in the Lancashire Senior Cup quarter-final.
Goals from Fidel O'Rourke, Tom Clayton and Jack Bearne ensured Lewtas' U23s side set up a semi-final against Blackpool, who are led by former Academy coach Neil Critchley.
"Leighton has made a huge difference for us because he adds a different dimension to our play since he has come back," Lewtas told Liverpoolfc.com. "He is able to control the pace of the game through his range of passing.
"The midfield we have been able to put together with Tyler Morton, Leighton, Tom Clayton, Dominic Corness, it is a talented midfield and one full of good footballers.
"We've been able to have control of games for larger periods, which has suited how we wanted to play the game."
Despite not playing as many minutes as he would have liked at Blackburn, Lewtas insists Clarkson learned a lot from the experience.
"Obviously Leighton started the season on loan at Blackburn Rovers, couldn't quite force his way into the team and they went on a fantastic run and sometimes that can happen," he added.
"Leighton is unbelievably humble around the whole situation and experience. I think it was a great experience for him and he was able to get himself into a top Championship squad and see how things worked.
"Sometimes a loan can work in different ways. Yes, he would have liked to have played more games, but he's come back and he's fitted straight back in. There's no sulking and moaning from him, his performances for me have been excellent.
"He has had to work hard because he did miss a lot of football, but he's certainly up to speed now and he's made a real big difference for us."
Liverpool U23s return to action on Saturday when they host Tottenham Hotspur at the Academy, with kick-off set for 12pm GMT.
The game has been brought forward from the original date of Sunday because the U19 group face Juventus in Italy on Tuesday afternoon in the UEFA Youth League quarter-finals.
Read on as Lewtas reflects on the win over Preston and offers an encouraging update on striker Layton Stewart, who is training again after being sidelined for a year with an ACL injury.
On the 3-0 victory against Preston…
It was a really good performance. We said as a group in the lead-up to the game that we feel our performances have become quite consistent. Obviously we had that disappointing night against Leeds United at Elland Road, but from a performance point of view we didn't think we were a million miles off, besides one or two bits we needed to fix. Games can hinge on decisions and moments and that's what kind of happened that night. Since Christmas I certainly feel there has been more consistency in our play in and out of possession.
On O'Rourke notching his first competitive goal at U23 level…
I was pleased for Fidel. He took his goal really well. He has been hit with injury this season and missed a lot of games, which has been a real shame for him. You know what you are going to get from Fidel because he does a lot of work for the team, he presses ever so well from the front, which is a big part of how we want to play. He also offers a real threat in behind because he makes good forward runs which centre-backs don't like. A lot of the work he does is unselfish for other players as well so it's always nice when you have a player who does that. But you always want them to get their just rewards as a No.9 and I was really pleased to see him get his goal.
On the recent form of Bearne in front of goal…
Jack has been in really good form. He is a player you can never say lacks effort. He has dealt with over the course of the season falling out of the team then being back in it again. He has played in different positions and had to adapt, but certainly he is another once since Christmas who has enjoyed a consistent run in training and games. He has been able to combine lots of parts of his game together because he has many positive parts to his game. His work-rate is phenomenal but sometimes you want more from him in possession. Certainly since Christmas he has scored goals, he's creating chances and there is a real focus about his game, because he is a really good kid. I've been pleased with him and he's in a real good space.
Highlights: Preston North End 0-3 Liverpool U23s
On Saturday's meeting with Tottenham…
Always a tough game. Earlier in the season we lost 2-1 at Tottenham and I don't think we did ourselves justice on the day when we conceded near the end. It wasn't our best day but I'm also respectful that Tottenham are a good team. We are very aware that we will need to be at our best but I think the form that we are in, we are certainly confident. They will need to bring their A game with them as well. It's an exciting fixture and we want to continue our good form.
On the fitness of Stewart…
Layton has been training with us, which is brilliant. Layton's commitment to his rehabilitation has been unbelievable. Paul Kelly, Scott McAuley, Paul Squires, Tony Jones, the medical staff have worked tirelessly with him, along with Layton as well. It can be a lonely journey sometimes on the way back after a long lay-off, but we have seen him every day and I have been really impressed with his rehabilitation and what he has done. All those staff deserve a big mention but I always give credit to the player.
Layton has worked so hard, he has kept himself in really good shape and his outlook, his mentality, he has really matured and we are excited to have him back with us on the grass and back training. For us, it's about getting him ready, not rushing him, but certainly at the same time as well, we are not going to hold him back. When he's ready, he's ready and we'll be ready to play him and see where we go from there. He's making good progress.