Liverpool face Ajax in the NextGen semi-finals from Langtree Park at 19:00 GMT/3:00PM EST
After stumbling in the early going of the group stages and losing to Tottenham in the quarter-finals, Liverpool's U19s still find themselves facing off against Ajax in the NextGen Series semi-finals for the right to face either Inter Milan or Marseille. That they're playing in the semis may be a surprise, but all that matters in the end is that they are, so join us here and on Twitter as we keep an eye on Liverpool's talented young reserves as they face off against another European academy power.
Ways to Watch:
Live and online on LFCtv. Also available on Setanta Ireland and Fox Soccer in the United States.
McLaughlin, Wisdom, Sama, McGiveron
Suso, Adorjan, Sterling
Van der Hart
Ligeon, Veltman, Denswil, Dijks
Sporkslede, de Sa, Rits, Schoop
Liverpool's tournament so far has mirrored much of the good and bad seen from the senior side in recent years: Often dominating possession but just as often unable to put away their chances. After starting off the tournament by suffering a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Sporting Lisbon, a margin that spoke to Liverpool's inability to finish chances far more than it did Sporting's slight edge in the run of play, their early odds for advancement weren't good. Further struggles to find the back of the net against Wolfsburg only compounded the problem, though two victories over last-place Molde combined with Sporting dominance elsewhere in the group were enough to allow the Reds to progress as the second place side despite a record of two wins, a draw, and three losses.
The chance to face Tottenham in the quarter-finals, however, only led to more of the same. Liverpool were the better side for much of the match, controlling possession and creating far more chances than their opponents, but with Spurs' Shaquile Coulthirst the only player on either side to find the back of the net it seemed Liverpool's run had come to an end. The primary goal of any side taking part in the tournament was always meant to be the experience of facing clubs and styles of play most young players wouldn't have a chance to until far later in their careers—if ever. And from that point of view, it was hard not to feel as though Liverpool's involvement had been a success despite the finishing troubles and an exit against Spurs their play hadn't deserved.
Soon after, though, it emerged that Tottenham had fielded an ineligible player, and so an Ajax side that finished second in their group to Aston Villa but went on to put three past Barcelona in the quarter-finals now travels to Liverpool instead London. However, tonight's match won't take place at Anfield as every other Liverpool home game in the series has until now due to last night's rescheduled Merseyside derby, with today's match instead moved to nearby Langtree Park in St. Helens.
As for Ajax, they come in on a high after beating Barcelona at that academy's Mini Estadi, with top scorers Viktor Fischer and Davy Klaassen sitting on four and three goals apiece. This stands in contrast to Liverpool, currently without top scorer Toni Silva after the young Portuguese winger headed out on loan to Northampton Town. Striker Fisher in particular appears to be rounding into form for Ajax, having scored twice against Barcelona in a convincing performance as the Dutch side rebounded from a poor finish to the group stages that had seen them lose the final two games after winning the opening three.
Beyond that they had been on poor form leading into it, it was somewhat surprising to see them defeat Barcelona on the road when two of their wins and seven of their nine goals in the group stage had come at home. Any hopes for an easy victory Liverpool fans might have based on those events in the group stages, then, have to come hard up against Ajax triumphing on the road against the second best side (after Sporting Lisbon) in the tournament. As such it would be wrong to suggest that whether Liverpool manages to finally score the goals their play has often deserved will be the deciding factor—not with Ajax coming in on a high and looking anything but pushovers—but in a tournament where Liverpool would have had a good chance of topping their group and defeating Tottenham on merit if only they'd managed to put away their chances, it's likely to decide if they even have a hope of advancing to the finals.