There are two huge Liverpool games on Sunday.
Before Jurgen Klopp’s first team take on Fulham, Barry Lewtas’ under-18s will be looking to become the first Reds side to reach the final of the FA Youth Cup in a decade. History beckons for this hugely-talented group.
Liverpool have only won the Youth Cup three times, the last of which came in 2007. They host Watford at Anfield on Sunday as favourites to book a final berth, where either West Brom or, intriguingly, Manchester City would await.
It’s been a testing week for Lewtas and his side. Beaten in a top-of-the-table Premier League clash with Derby last weekend, they were then knocked out of the UEFA Youth League on penalties by Dinamo Zagreb, with top scorer Bobby Duncan missing the crucial kick. Factor in the travel – they arrived back on Merseyside at midnight on Wednesday – and it has taken plenty out of them.
The prospect of Anfield, though, should provide an extra kick of adrenaline. For young footballers, and for young coaches, this is the place to be.
“It’s great isn’t it?” says Lewtas. “It gives them a taste of the dressing room, and we’re really excited about the pitch. There will be no excuses in that regard, we need to be on it, we need to play the way we know we can. It’s a perfect surface, big pitch against a good team who will try and press the life out of us. We’re really excited.
“I’m sure the lads will have families there watching, and it’ll be a real proud moment.”
Lewtas admits it has been a difficult few days, but says the experience of playing in big games, one after the other, will stand his players in good stead if they are to progress their careers.
“Without overstating it, it’s very similar to the first team,” he says. “The game against Bayern Munich was huge, they win it and they kick on again.
“We have got to try and ride that wave, embrace the tough game, a semi-final at Anfield. We’re not downplaying it. We’ve got to go all guns blazing for this one, and the remainder of our league games as well.
“A lot of the boys are used to these big games. They play European games, international games for their countries. They’re not wet behind the ears, and that’s something we need to use to our advantage at Anfield on Sunday.
“We try and expose them to big games. We’re not complacent, but we hope we’ve prepared them enough throughout the Academy. But I agree the FA Youth Cup is that tournament that carries something a little bit more special.”
Liverpool’s hopes, as ever, will rest upon the shoulders of Paul Glatzel and Bobby Duncan, their prolific strike partnership. Behind them, though, are stories wherever you look. This week, for example, saw defender Rhys Williams receive his first call-up to the England under-18 squad. He and Duncan will head to Dubai straight after Sunday’s game to meet up with their team-mates.
“I’m really pleased for Rhys,” Lewtas says. “He’s really earned his way in there. He’s shown good potential.
“I remember showing him a video for him on his heading, and it had all his old clips from when he was 15. He wouldn’t want me to show you any of them! He’d want them archived!
“But look at him now, and the hard work he’s put in. It’s not by chance. He was always taller than everyone, but look at him now, he’s fully worthy of his call-up and his chance. I’ve had a chat with him and he’s really excited.
“He’s had a pro contract, a bit of under-23s exposure and done well, and at under-18s and under-19s level he’s been really strong. He’s one of those players that we’ll look back on at the end of the season and think ‘what a good story’. There are a few of them.
“Look at Paul’s resurgence after all those injuries, Bobby’s start to a new club, Rhys, big Vite [Jaros] in goal, Yasser [Larouci] at left-back. There’s time to reflect at the end of the season, but Rhys’ call-up is another one to show we’ve had a good year.”
For now, though, the focus is on Watford.
“We’ve done some analysis, we know the teams they have beaten,” Lewtas adds. “We watched the game against Leicester and they’re a good team. A lot of their boys play under-23s so we know they’ll be able to cope physically, they’ll be tough. Leicester are a real good team and they beat them in extra time.
“We’re preparing to play against the best team we’ve faced. I don’t think that approach has done us wrong so far. We know who their good players are, they’re a good team.”
The timing of the game, it has to be said, is not ideal, with the first team hogging the limelight.
Still, it is hoped that the noon kick-off will allow supporters to get to Anfield beforehand and cheer on the under-18s.
“It’d be great if they could,” says Lewtas. “The more we get there, the better. It adds to the experience.
“In Zagreb, there were 3,500 there and it sounded like 6,000. It was frightening, really loud, it echoed and it was really nice. There were moments where we controlled the game and you could hear a pin drop. It was like a proper European game.
“It was a proper European experience. It’d be great if we could create something like that at Anfield.
“The boys will have their families there of course, but the more people who can get down and support, I’m sure the lads would like that, definitely.”
Liverpool U18s will face Watford U18s in the semi final of the FA Youth Cup at Anfield at noon on Sunday, March 17.
The Kop will be open for this ALL TICKET FIXTURE with tickets priced at: £3 for Adults, £1 for Over 65's, Young Adults & Juniors.
Season ticket holders and members can gain admission free of charge but must still secure their ticket in advance, from the Anfield ticket office up until 10am on Sunday March 17.