Liverpool FC: Under 23's boss proud of players following Porto draw in Premier League International Cup
It was a cold night on Merseyside which was sparked into life in the second half, as fans with Liverpool tickets cast an eye over their latest young crop of players hoping to make the grade into the first team squad.
Following an uneventful first period, it was the Portuguese visitors who took the lead through Omar Garcia who curled his free kick around the wall and into the bottom corner five minutes into the second half. However, Liverpool responded well and netted a deserved equaliser through 19-year old Brooks Lennon who showed great composure to level after 65 minutes.
Liverpool boss, Michael Beale spoke to Football Ticket Pad after the game. He said: “I was delighted with our second half performance. We had our chances to win the game but couldn’t take them.” The young reds now face a tough ask to qualify from their group with only one point from their opening two matches. Beale said: “We have been unlucky in this competition. Against Wolfsburg we lost in the last minute and we have drew tonight which is really harsh on the players because I thought we played really well.”
The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Pedro Chirivella, Kevin Stewart and Ovie Ejaria were all unavailable for Liverpool tonight because of their recent involvement with Jurgen Klopp and the senior squad at Melwood. Beale said: “We had five or six lads who couldn't play tonight because they are with the first team and we can’t fault the commitment shown by the lads who stepped in.”
Liverpool were also rocked by the devastating news earlier in the day that Danny Ings would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. The striker had been working his way back to full fitness and had been an integral part of Michael Beale’s Under 23’s squad this term. Beale told Football Ticket Pad: “I’m devastated for him. He was a shining example to our young lads.” He added: “Danny is such a nice person. You have seen the response by football fans and players in general which shows how he is really well thought of not just in the club but across football.”
Liverpool began the evening with the £25 million centre back pairing of Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori, with Marko Grujic also coming down from the first team in order to gain some match fitness. There was also a welcome return for Jordan Williams who made his long awaited return in midfield to make his first start following long term knee and groin injuries. Meanwhile, there was also a first start for Spanish left back, Juanma who looked assured in his new surroundings following a successful trial from Barcelona earlier in the season.
It was Porto who began the game stronger and the 2015 Premier League International Cup finalists forced the first chance of the game after seven minutes when Joe Graca’s corner found the head of Chidozie Awaziem who forced Kamil Grabara to save smartly down to his right. Both sides looked to get the ball down and play, but lacked the final killer final pass to open up each other’s defences.
Joris Kayembe provided the impetus in Porto's attacks and looked a real threat on the right hand side. However, Connor Randall and Juanma defended well and galloped forward from full-back to link up well with Matty Virtue and Marko Grujic in midfield. Liverpool were unable to muster up an end product with Harry Wilson having Liverpool’s best chance curling his effort over the bar from seven yards from Randall’s cross midway through the first half.
In the second period, Porto began the half on the front foot and they took the lead against the run of play shortly after the interval. Jordan Williams committed a innocuous foul on the edge of the penalty area and the Portuguese giants made the Reds pay with a great right footed finish from Omar Garcia, who curled his effort low beyond the reach of Kamil Grabara.
Liverpool looked for an immediate reply and came close with a Tiago Ilori header which was glanced over the bar from a Harry Wilson corner. Liverpool began to look like a threat and they were back on level terms after 65 minutes through American forward, Brooks Lennon who grabbed his third goal in as many matches.
Marko Grujic won the ball in the middle of the pitch to find the dangerous Wilson, who beat his man to find Lennon unmarked on the left hand side, before shifting the ball onto his right foot and curling the ball into the far top corner past Raul Vega.
Liverpool gained the upper hand and took hold of the game following their leveller. Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn and Brooks Lennon all came close to giving Liverpool the lead, but all three players saw their efforts saved by the Porto stopper.
Liverpool then had a chance to win it after 88 minutes when Harry Wilson was sent through one on one, but his chipped effort was cleared off the line as both teams had to settle for a hard earned point after ninety minutes.
Liverpool will feel that they did enough to win the match, but Beale was impressed with the effort shown by his players. Beale added: “These European teams give a great test for our young players. We would like to play these types of games more often because they cause so many problems physically compared to some of the teams we play in the league.”
Liverpool’s next match in the Premier League International Cup is away to Leicester City in December. Despite the result, there is a real feel good factor around Melwood and the Liverpool academy and the future certainly looks bright for some of the clubs emerging talents.