Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Preview & Matchday: Liverpool U19s vs Sporting Lisbon U19s

An intriguing experiment begins tonight; an under-19 Champions League-style competition with some of the best academies in Europe. And the home-and-away group stage starts out with a bang for Liverpool, as they host what on paper looks set to be their toughest foe of that opening round when Sporting Lisbon comes to town. Molde and Wolfsburg are also in Liverpool’s group, with the likes of Ajax, Olympic Marseille, Celtic, Tottenham, and Barcelona potentially waiting in the knock-out stage in January should Liverpool finish in the top two. But for now it’s the Lisbon u19s.

For those late to the party, the NextGen Series is a 16-club tournament that plans on expanding to 24 for next year’s edition, and while it’s billed as an u19 competition it does allow clubs to include three overage players in their squad—though in this case, overage only means by one year. As for just how seriously Liverpool plans to take it, well, they were the first club to sign on.

The key idea is that it will give young players a chance to face a range of tactical approaches and focuses they wouldn’t normally, and at times they may even come up against approaches to the game that are not only uncommon but entirely foreign to players growing up in English academies.

Of course, in recent years under Frank McParland, Rodolfo Borrell, and Pep Segura, Liverpool has sought a return to pass and move football along with teaching the 4231 at all levels of the academy and reserves in an attempt to fashion a footballing identity for the club that runs from the youngest underage players through to the first team and the backroom staff’s approach the game. To some extent this will make competing against the more technical continental sides such as Sporting far easier for Liverpool’s youth players than, say, Aston Villa when they take on Ajax tonight or Manchester City when they take on Barcelona on the 14th of September. Even for the Liverpool kids, though, it will be on a stage and at a level of competition most of the players wouldn’t have had a chance to experience until much later—if ever.

When it comes to tomorrow’s competition, as much as Ajax and Barcelona might spring to mind for many when the topic of Europe’s top youth academies comes up, Sporting Lisbon deserves to be in the conversation, too. Former and current Manchester United players Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani both came out of their famed Academia Sporting, as did Portugal’s most capped player, Luis Figo, with Ronaldo and Figo’s Ballon d’Or victories making Sporting the only club whose academy has produced two European Footballers of the Year. As good as Liverpool’s academy players have appeared to be over the last year, this will be the first real test to gauge just how close to—or far from—the elite of Europe’s youth systems they are right now. Beat Sporting—or at least compete strongly against them—and it will go some way towards confirming just how good this group of players is and could eventually become.

In the end, though, as with any developmental competition, it would be fairly easy to suggest that the results don’t really matter if things don’t quite work out. As much as we’ve talked about the youth and reserves around here a fair bit over the last year with the excitement of a revitalized academy stocked full of promising talent, names like Raheem Sterling and Fernando Suso, Adam Morgan and Tony Silva and Andre Wisdom and Conor Coady, not to mention players like John Flanagan and Jack Robisnon who have already worked their way into the fringes of the first team, the games they play are at the end of the day about gaining experience more than they are about winning. And here, too, at the end of the day the biggest thing to take away will be that experience, along with the hope that it helps on the road to Liverpool’s potential golden generation eventually coming good and shedding that “potential” tag.

Yet in the same way that winning in the FA Youth Cup is more important than in the developmental and reserve leagues because it secures further competition against generally stronger opposition, winning here is more important than it would be in the FA Youth Cup for the chance it offers to face off with further academy powers from around Europe. Winning means you keep playing, and that could mean a lot down the road.

eyond that, however, it also can’t be ignored that with the likes of Sporting, Barcelona, and Ajax, it is a tournament that from day one carries more prestige than any other underage club competition. While it’s hardly on par with the actual Champions League, and it seems rather unlikely that any player will finish his career only to look back and boast about a NextGen Series triumph, it’s still something more important than what has come before. The chance for Liverpool’s revitalized academy to go up against some of the best developmental systems on the continent is hardly something to be sniffed at, and if Liverpool were to manage a successful run it would clearly be a proverbial feather in the cap for McParland, Segura, and Borrell—not to mention for the academy as a whole, which could then present itself as one of the best in Europe with some fairly heavy proof to back up the claim.

It also can’t be entirely ignored that for the fans, with Liverpool’s senior side out of Europe this season it offers at least an intriguing distraction. Certainly it’s not the league. And it’s not the FA Cup. It would be damnably difficult even to argue that it was near the level of the diluted League Cup. Still, it isn’t nothing: It’s midweek football against some of Europe’s biggest names, and some of the players Liverpool fans will be hoping to follow at the club for a decade or more will be getting the chance to shine on their biggest stage yet.

Bolton Offer £4m Plus Add-Ons For Liverpool Star

Bolton Wanderers will launch a £4million bid for Liverpool striker David Ngog.

The deal will include potential add-ons as well after the Trotters had a £3.5million offer rejected for the 22-year-old last month by the Reds.

The Frenchman has never established himself in the first-team at Anfield and has scored only nine league goals in 63 games since arriving from Paris St Germain in 2008.

He has slipped further down the pecking order following last January’s arrival of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez to complement Dirk Kuyt as the club’s forwards, according to the Times.

Ngog was to be included as part of the deal that saw Jordan Henderson move to Liverpool from Sunderland, but the hit-man could not agree personal terms with the Black Cats.

AC Milan Pull Plug On Aquilani Deal

AC Milan have given up their pursuit of Liverpool misfit Alberto Aquilani, according to reports in Italy.

The Rossoneri were keen on a deal for the Italy international, who spent last season on loan at Juventus, but it is understood that Milan are not willing to pay his high wages.

It has also been suggested that the San Siro side only wanted the 27-year-old on loan, while Liverpool were keen to sell him on to recoup some of the £20m they paid Roma for him in 2009.

And, having ended their interest in Aquilani, Milan has now turned their attentions to Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo and is lining up a £10m offer.

QPR Make Degen Enquiry understands Queens Park Rangers have made an enquiry regarding Liverpool outcast Philipp Degen.

The Switzerland international appears to be surplus to requirements at Anfield after struggling to make an impression during his time at Liverpool.

He was beset by injury troubles in his first season at the club after arriving from Borussia Dortmund in 2008 and spent last season back on loan in the Bundesliga with Stuttgart.

With Reds boss Kenny Dalglish having the likes of Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and youngster John Flanagan to choose from at right-back, Degen could be on the move before the transfer window closes.

Premier League new boys QPR remain in the market for new signings as manager Neil Warnock tries to build a squad capable of surviving in the top flight.

Warnock started the new campaign with Kieron Dyer at right-back, but the former England international lasted just a few minutes of Saturday's 4-0 defeat by Bolton Wanderers before being stretchered off.

Bradley Orr replaced Dyer at Loftus Road, while Warnock also currently has issues at left-back after Clint Hill was sent off late on in the defeat by Bolton.

Degen has made a total of 13 appearances during his Liverpool career and his last outing for the Reds was in the Europa League against Atletico Madrid in April 2010.

Liverpool Defender Completes Move To Premier League Rivals

Norwich have announced that they have completed the signing of Liverpool defender Daniel Ayala for an undisclosed fee after the youngster impressed during two loan spells in the Championship last season.

The newly promoted side has been tracking the Spanish defender for some time after manager Paul Lamabert first became aware of the player last season when he had spells at Hull and Derby.

Hull had hoped to sign the centre-back on a permanent deal, while Swansea where also said to be interested, but it is Norwich who have completed a deal for the 20-year-old.

"Liverpool have confirmed Daniel Ayala has completed his transfer to Norwich City," read a statement on

Ayala first joined the club in 2007 when Rafa Benitez persuaded the youngster to leave Sevilla and make the move to Anfield, but he struggled to make an impact in the first team.

In his four year spell at the club Ayala has made just 5 league appearances and has decided that he needs to leave in order to gain regular first team football.

Norwich has now brought eight players to the club during the summer transfer window and Ayala is expected to go straight into the squad for the weekend's game against Stoke.

Flanagan Determined To Improve

Young Liverpool right-back Jon Flanagan has vowed to keep improving and make the most of his chances on Merseyside.

The 18-year-old right-back was plucked from the reserves towards the end of last season and enjoyed a string of Premier League starts.

He also ran out in Saturday's league opener against Sunderland ahead of fellow youngster Martin Kelly after regular right-back Glen Johnson picked up an injury in pre-season.

And while Flanagan fully expects a battle for a regular spot in Kenny Dalglish's side, the teenager is determined to stake his claim.

"I just want to continue improving," he told LFC Magazine.

"There are areas where I need to get better such as going forward and crossing. I need to work on everything.

"With lads like Glen and Martin there is plenty of competition in the squad. That's always good to have.

"It means if you do get in the team you have to take the chance."

Kelly's breakthrough campaign was in full flow last season until a hamstring problem picked up at West Ham in February cut his season short.

The 21-year-old impressed ahead of his injury setback and Flanagan hopes he can emulate his team-mate's progress.

"Martin is only a few years older than me," he added. "He came in last season and did brilliantly. He showed exactly how to grab an opportunity."

Flanagan has already operated in three positions for Liverpool and hopes that versatility can help keep him in the side.

"My natural position is right-back but I'd play anywhere for the club," he said.

"Left-back is okay too and I came on in midfield (in the pre-season friendly) against Valencia. I don't mind if I have a new role as a holding midfielder now.

"Playing on either side isn't much different. You have the same job to do, you're just on the other flank. Obviously I'm more comfortable on the right because I'm right-footed, but the left side is fine."

Kenny Relishing Euro Challenge

Liverpool's youngsters go under the spotlight at Anfield on Wednesday night when they take on Sporting Lisbon in their first game of the NextGen Series, with Kenny Dalglish insisting it will be an invaluable education for them.

Rodolfo Borrell's side will face a Portuguese outfit who in the past have produced players in the calibre of Paulo Futre, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Reds are also set to face German outfit Wolfsburg and Norwegian side Molde in their group, and the Liverpool manager is looking forward to seeing how the youngsters fare in the competition.

"It's a fantastic tournament and we're privileged to be part and parcel of it," Dalglish told

"You don't qualify for it, you get invited to play in it, so it tells you the high regard Liverpool have in Europe when we are invited to play in it and we are really looking forward to seeing how it develops.

"The quality I'm sure is going to be very high so we'll need to step up to the mark and do our best to put on a good show.

"I think it's a great education for the players.

"With the first game being at Anfield it's fantastic for the supporters to go and watch the kids play.

"They know these boys did very well last year in the Youth Cup so I'm sure they are looking forward to seeing them play this season a year older."

Liverpool FC Launches Official Weibo Page on Chinese Social Networking Site

Liverpool FC fans received an unusual tweet from their favorite team Tuesday morning.

The tweet, which was written in Chinese, was translated a few moments later when the team announced it had launched an official Weibo account.

Weibo, for those who might not know, is a Chinese social network that is a cross between Facebook and Twitter.

It drew attention in the U.S. for the outporing of reaction after NBA star Yao Ming announcement his retirement last month.

For the billions of people who can read Chinese, they can visit Liverpool's page at for news, photos and to share their thoughts on the team.