Liverpool’s NextGen Series team had high expectations to live up to in this season’s edition of Europe’s premier youth competition. As former members of the team such as Suso, Andre Wisdom and Raheem Sterling started to make an impact on first-team proceedings many predicted big things from the latest group of young Liverpool starlets.
However the negative effect of this success resulted in a potentially weaker Liverpool side heading in to the competition and a tough group containing the likes of Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Rosenborg.
They initially struggled. Defeated 3-2 in the opening fixture by reigning champions Inter was not such a disastrous result but after being outgunned 2-1 by Borussia Dortmund and comprehensively beaten by Rosenborg 3-0 in their next two fixtures Liverpool sat at the bottom of Group Five with zero points from three games; they seemed down and out.
Since then Liverpool have been unstoppable. Surging from apparent hopelessness at the bottom of Group Five into a qualification place as one of the best placed third teams in the competition. Yet it is the way in which they achieved the feat that should be commended.
They tore apart their opposition in the final three fixtures to do the unthinkable and earn qualification. A 4-1 romp against Rosenborg was followed by a 3-0 demolition of German outfit Borussia Dortmund but still The Reds needed to win their final game in order to earn a place in the next stage; and they faced reigning champions Inter Milan.
They won 4-1 at Langtree Park to complete a sensational turnaround and make it to the knockout stage. The campaign had several similarities to the one in which the senior side ended so successfully in Istanbul back in 2005. Then it was down to Steven Gerrard to be the catalyst; including his now infamous ‘You Beauty’ moment against Olympiakos.
Now they need to find an elusive away victory to topple Sporting Lisbon in the knockout stage but they are as well-equipped as any of the other 15 teams left in the competition to go all the way and win the competition; especially if they channel the spirit of Istanbul.
image: © ekilby