Liverpool’s under-23 side overcame the significant challenge of Manchester City this evening with a late goal from Matty Virtue the difference between the two teams.
Substitute Virtue will receive all the plaudits, but in truth it was Ben Woodburn, still only seventeen, who was the real star. The Welshman was the best player on the pitch by some distance, and looked like an established star amongst his compatriots.
It was City who scored first, through a penalty from Paolo Fernandes. Trent Alexander-Arnold was adjudged to have made the foul: if at first it looked soft, seeing a replay only made it look softer.
Liverpool had begun the game well, and were behind to a dubious decision inside the first twenty minutes, but were not prepared to lie down.
Sheyi Ojo hit the bar as the Reds responded well, and it was not long until they found the equaliser. Ben Woodburn was played through by Trent Alexander-Arnold, and he hit a right-footed shot across goal into the corner – a textbook finish.
Half-time came, and Liverpool were unlucky only to be level, no small achievement considering the quality of the opponent; Manchester City’s academy is widely regarded as the best in the country at the moment, but you would never have known.
Soon after the interval, Rhian Brewster had the chance to make it 2-1, but he someone missed an open goal from no more than eight yards out. Still the goal would not come.
On the hour mark, Ovie Ejaria was replaced by Matty Virtue. Ejaria has just returned from injury, and put in a decent shift today. His replacement had been planned from the off.
Woodburn quickly showed his class again, though, and Liverpool did finally find themselves in front. It was another excellent finish from the attacker, this time from the opposite side, the left, showing just why he has featured for the first team so much this season.
Marko Grujic, also returning from an injury, understandably looked a little rusty at times, and when he dwelt on the ball a little too long, Manchester City’s midfield and forward line pounced. Grujic stayed down injured to try and win a free-kick, but it was goalkeeper Kamil Grabara to the rescue. He saved the resulting shot, which went for a corner.
Just when Grujic must have thought he had got away with it, Liverpool defended the corner abysmally – with him off the pitch receiving treatment, only able to watch on. It seems defending corners is not only an issue for Jurgen Klopp’s first team, but the under-23’s too.
The final ten minutes saw Sheyi Ojo replaced. The winger had tired, and City were getting in on his side. They hit the bar, but Liverpool then went on the attack.
Both Marko Grujic and Trent Alexander-Arnold had clear chances at goal, but both screwed shots wide of the target with only a minute of normal time to play.
It looked like the chance had gone, but then a counter-attack saw Virtue win the game for the Reds. Ben Woodburn played a perfect ball into Brewster, who failed to convert, but the midfielder was there to tap in the rebound from close range.
Overall, Liverpool deserved to win, and Manchester City can have no complaints. The late goal, too, was fitting of a game that had lots of excitement.
Not everyone is a fan of the Premier League 2, but if all the matches were like this, they certainly would be.
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