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The Academy: United 1-2 Liverpool

In a wind and rain affected 90 minutes at Carrington today, Liverpool stole the points in the first and last minutes to grab a second win in just six weeks over United’s improving youngsters.

The minutes in between saw United ride their luck and spurn opportunities in equal measure.

Jack Dunn was Liverpool’s match-winner with two well taken finishes at crucial times. Sam Byrne finally broke his duck when he got on the end of a superb move that will almost certainly be a candidate for goal of the month, possibly even goal of the season.

Under the conditions it would be unfair to judge any of the players on their performance today. The team gave a good account of itself and definitely gave Liverpool more to think about than it did last time. However, it was an opportunity to look for different attributes that maybe aren’t so prominent each week. Stamina, decision making, strength, running with the ball and hold up play are a few skills needed to deal with the conditions that presented themselves.

The wind was gusting for almost the entire match and at times there was hail and rain, all while the temperature was getting colder and colder as the match wore on.

Last week against West Brom United allowed their opponent to go instantly on the attack. They were lucky not to concede when a cross flashed through the goalmouth. This week they were not so lucky.

Liverpool did exactly the same thing and attacked from the kickoff, Jack Dunn raced clear beyond the unusually labouring Tyler Blackett and slotted home a low shot into the bottom left hand corner. Unbeknown to me, Liam Jacob’s positioning was appalling (Thanks to @1999jacko for pointing that out to me during the game). Liam was positioned outside his post and the subsequent TV pictures clearly highlighted Jacob’s error. The time and speed of the goal can offer an excuse to some degree, but it’s something the boys need to learn from and be aware of every week. If they do……they’ve improved and progressed….again.

Can I be critical of United’s coaching staff? Probably not with any credibility, no. But when mistakes like that are recurring, then as coaches you’re taught to deal with something you’re doing wrong (or at least could do better).

The keepers and the team separately go through their pre-match routines as a matter of….well, routine. The same small-sided sessions and the same practices before each and every game without fail. Maybe, if the players aren’t quite ready when they take to the pitch, then it’s time to introduce a new pre-game session to get them physically and mentally prepared to go from-the-off. That’s just a thought and one that’s probably above my station but, I’ve put it out there as an observation anyway.

If one team handled the conditions better than the other today, then I’d say it was probably Liverpool because they better adjusted their game to suit it than United did, having said that, United looked the better team technically and in my view, deserved the points. I know it’s hypothetical, but I think on a calm dry day, United would have taken the points. I was actually delighted they continued to believe in the ir football regardless of the conditions.

Playing into the wind United were penned in their own half during the first half because Liverpool played a highline and pressured the ball in numbers. United had no option but to win the ball and run with it if they had no passing options. If they chose to clear it, the ball would swirl back towards them or out of play. They created chances by patiently building attacks and keeping possession, but the physical demands that takes took it’s toll on the players.

In the 12th minute United drew level when van Velzen, Daehli and Januzaj linked play from defence to attack with direct, accurate passes. Their movement was exceptional and so too was their first touches. Ekanagamene, who is rapidly making leftback his own, anticipated the movement and made an intelligent run into space overlapping the trio. He received the ball, took a touch and delivered a perfect cross that Sam Byrne applied the finishing touch to. It’s Sam’s first goal for the club and what a great way to get off the mark. Hopefully the goal will help him recognise where he needs to be. I’ve criticised his positioning in the box over recent weeks but if he continues to make those runs and time them well, then his tally will increase in no time.

Conversely to the way Liverpool set-up in the first half, the second half saw United drop deeper and left Sam Byrne on his own to chase down and press the opposition defenders. This gave Liverpool more time than they’d afforded United when faced with the wind disadvantage, but ironically it wasn’t what they wanted!

They wanted United to come at them and when they did they were going to counter……..and counter they did. Each time United bombed forward and lost possession, the tactic was enthusiastically deployed and it created enough chances to make it a cricket score, but thanks to some brilliant saves from Jacob and some wasteful finishing, the scores remained even.

United created chances of their own. Mats Daehli twice went close, once after some very neat footwork by himself to create the chance to bend a shot just wide and then some good work down the left carved out the chance for Byrne to play Mats in, but he hesitated and the chance went out for a corner.

Both teams had wind assisted freekicks well saved by the keepers and both teams missed opportunities to take the lead.
With fulltime approaching United were taking more and more risks until finally they succumbed to their original Achilles heel….the counter-attack.

The team has made great strides to rectify the problem of conceding goals and chances from counter-attacks since they were an obvious weakness in the opening weeks, none more so than the Blackburn match.

However, in injury time the crack opened again. Donald Love intuitively raced to intercept a pass when he sensed his defensive team mates were in trouble. He was unlucky because he made the right decision, but from the attempted interception the ball found its way to Love’s marker who was now unmarked. You could see what was coming, United were outnumbered and Liverpool sensed a winner. Two passes later and Jack Dunn had smartly placed his shot past Jacob and was wheeling away in celebration knowing he’d just won the game.

Luckily It’s not the end of the world. If anything, the good performance and the manner of the defeat could make the team stronger.

Negatives: Under those conditions the result could always turn into a lottery and that’s exactly how it turned out, so it’s difficult to point a finger at or criticise anyone. But James Weir returned to central midfield and appeared to take a knock on the half hour mark, after that he looked to be struggling and became a passenger. The wind tired many of the players out but James, just returning from a layoff, seemed more affected than most.

Positives: Desire. Determination. Teamwork. The communication improved today too.

Next up for The Academy is the defence of the FA Youth Cup which begins at Moss Lane in Altrincham next Friday with a second round tie against Torquay to navigate. Admission on the night is £3 Adults – £1 kids. Kickoff is 7:30pm.

Follow me on Twitter (@Rimmerstweets), always happy to share opinions on the academy and get the thoughts of others.