It seems like just yesterday that I was watching the last Liverpool Reserves game and the last U18 game. Fortunately, however, youth competitions are over (besides the U20 World Cup), and the players are back in training. The U18 side have a new coach in Mike Marsh, previously the U16 coach. Liverpool have decided to graduate almost all of the U18's into the Reserve side, and are trying to clear out the Reserves as much as possible. This year's U18 side will mostly consist of new foreign players and players graduated from the U16 side. Meanwhile, the old U18 coach, Rodolfo Borrell, is now managing the Liverpool Reserves. He will have to balance games between graduated academy players and first team veterans needing fitness. Read on as I introduce the new players to the U18's and share my thoughts and expectations for the coming year.The 2010-2011 year, while disappointing for the first team, was incredibly exciting for avid Academy watchers like myself. As I wrote in my Academy summary, Liverpool have done a great job recently in developing youth talent. Never before has Liverpool had such a great collection of youth talent, with players like John Flanagan and Jack Robinson spending less than a year in the Reserves before offering very solid first team performances. With a deeper squad heading into next year, Kenny Dalglish will likely not be forced to turn to the youngsters as much as he did this year, but they will all be ready to go if needed.
In addition to Flanagan and Robinson, Andre Wisdom, Suso, Raheem Sterling, and Conor Coady have been given first team squad numbers, and all except Suso and Sterling went to Asia as part of Liverpool's pre-season tour. All five will feature heavily in the Reserves this year, but will all be eligible for (to my knowledge, at least) the U18 Youth Cup. I also expect all of them to appear for the first team this year, though when they will appear remains a mystery. Given potential shortages at winger and CB, debuts by Wisdom and Sterling seem especially close.
The NextGen Series, unofficially known as the U19 Champions League, is another event Liverpool's youngsters will be taking part in. Running from August to January, it mimics the Champions League with a group stage followed by knockout rounds. Liverpool are in Group 2, with Sporting Lisbon, Molde FK, and Vfl Wolfsburg. Other clubs involved include Barcelona, Manchester City, Ajax, and Inter. I expect Liverpool to at least win their group, and hopefully make a decent run in the competition. The team will likely be last year's U18 side (who will all be eligible as the NextGen Series is U19), with a few of this year's U18 side added for depth. The experience will be great for our younger players, who will get a chance to play against different styles of play than they face in English U18/Reserve League competition.
The U18's will have almost all new faces this year. Plenty of players to watch will be coming up from the U16's. These include Lewis Hatch, Jack Dunn, Sam Gainford, Henoc Mukendi, and David Moli. Information on levels below U18 is hard to find, so little is actually available on these players yet (though they have taken part in 2 U18 friendlies recently), but all have been said to have great potential. Teams don't publicize U16 results, but rumors are that Liverpool's U16's won over a dozen games in a row towards the end of the season.
Several players have also been on trial for the U18's, with two players in particular standing out. These are a Spanish player named Nacho (from Atletico Madrid according to Henoc Mukendi's twitter) and an American named Villyan Bijev. Nacho has been playing as the '10' behind the striker (a similar position to that of Suso), while Villyan has been playing as a striker. While neither of these players (or any other of the many players on trial) have been officially signed by the club, it is very optimistic to see the clubs scouts looking for talent globally.
Liverpool's youth continue to look excellent. In a few years, we may have as many quality homegrown players as the current Barcelona side. I'll have lots of updates about the Academy teams and the Reserves as their seasons get underway, so stay tuned!