This was a fine result to start the new season. Liverpool are no push overs at youth level, and they made City work for the three points. Played under glorious blue skies, you would have excused the u18s for thinking they were back in Spain again. They spent two weeks in the sun concluding preparations for the new season, but as ever with early August games, the cobwebs were still a little evident. The first half was a niggly, scrappy affair - both teams lacked that touch of finesse or composure that usually comes a few games into the season. Nevertheless, there was a couple of half chances at either end. Kigbu notably going close after the ball broke free from corner, just dragging his shot wide of the post, and Grimshaw smartly kept Liverpool out at the other end. The goalless scoreline at half-time felt fair, but the second half was unquestionably City's. They were brighter, quicker and notably more direct from the offset, breaking the deadlock minutes into the second half. A lovely move down the left hand side involving Dilrosun and Wood freed Nmecha in the middle, who expertly clipped the ball beyond the keeper into the far corner.
It proved to be decisive. City could have had more too - Faour, a late sub, went close with a delightful chipped effort, as did Dilrosun and Patching as Liverpool struggled to put together any meaningful forays into City territory. It was a good performance. Not perfect, no, and at times a little rusty, but it was encouraging. All worked hard and there was glimpses of what could be a promising campaign for many involved. As expected, and as discussed at great length in the season preview posted yesterday, a few of the players who spent the summer with the EDS returned to the u18s squad. Charlie Oliver, Marcus Wood, Rodney Kongolo and Javairo Dilrosun made the starting line up, with Paolo Fernandes named amongst the subs. Perhaps a little too soon for the likes of Diallo, Diaz and Murray, but their time will come. As ever, we started in a 4-3-3. Grimshaw won the battle for the keepers position ahead of Albinson, and Ash Kigbu partnered Charlie Oliver in the middle. Marcus Wood, named captain for the day, started at left-back and Demeaco Duhaney slotted in on the right. In midfield Will Patching and Jacob Davenport were joined by Rodney Kongolo and the forward three consisted of Dilrosun, Nmecha and Buckley.
Nmecha, the match-winner, stood out. His finish was beautiful. An instinctive, darting run across the front of his defender afforded him the half a yard he needed, and he did the rest with nonchalant ease. It was purely instinctive stuff, yet highly impressive. He'll score plenty at this level. His footwork was good too, holding the ball up well, composed and relaxed in possession as he brought others into the game. Alongside him, Dilrosun finished strongly. Disappointing in the first half, he came alive for the final 45, repeatedly beating his man and twice going close after strong, powerful runs from deep. He was involved in the goal too, linking smartly with Wood down the left. Over on the right, Buckley started brightly, showcasing some lovely feet as he ran at Liverpool's left-back repeatedly. He faded a little in the second half, eventually replaced for Fernandes who shone sporadically in a decent little cameo, but it was a good run out for the young forward. Davenport was the pick of the midfield three, snapping into challenges with a De Jong-esque fervour. He's a real terrier, and though there was a little rustiness with the odd pass, he's clearly a good footballer - notably spraying one or two perfectly weighted 40 yards straight to the feet of onrushing forwards.
Kongolo was tidy and effective in midfield, mopping up alongside Davenport well, and Patching had some lovely moments - even if some things tried didn't quite come off. He nearly scored a blinder, strolling elegantly past two challenges before placing a shot with his weaker left foot just past the post. He was a little guilty of over-playing at times, deciding to pass when free inside the area instead of his swinging his left foot at it, but it was a solid performance. Importantly, all three worked hard too, tracking back and covering when necessary. Kigbu once again impressed at the heart of defence - strong, tough and positive in possession, he was a constant vocal presence alongside Oliver. Both read the game well, nipping in ahead of their opposition, and both were strong in the tackle. The pair looked comfortable on the ball too, even if there was a couple of questionable moments where their confidence got the best of them, conceding possession in dangerous positions. Early days however, and that rustiness will surely subside. Marcus Wood, usually a central midfielder, played well at left-back. Positionally he has a little to learn there, which is to be expected, but he has the skill set required. Strong, powerful and with a real engine, he provided the assist for the only goal of the game. He broke free down the left, played a lovely little one-two with Dilrosun, before intelligently picking out Nmecha in the middle. Duhaney on the other side was good too, if not spectacular. He worked hard in both directions, getting forward well and putting in a few good challenges as Liverpool broke.
Overall, it was a pleasing start to the season. Physical, competitive and committed, both teams clearly wanted it and Wilcox would have pleased by what he saw. The second years stood up, looking all the better for their experience, and the first year's acquitted themselves well. For the first time in a while, there's a real depth to the squad now at this age group. Wilcox spoke recently about how feels his second year scholars are even better than last year's - high praise given their accomplishments last season. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, but one thing's for certain, this team will compete well this year in all competitions they're involved in. Next up, the EDS take on Southampton on Monday night at 7pm. It's away, so I won't be there unfortunately, but Southampton do have a habit of streaming their u21s games on YouTube. Fingers crossed they'll do the same again this season.