Liverpool take on Manchester City in a youngsters Premier League 2 clash at Kirkby this afternoon.
While all eyes will be on Darwin Nunez as he adjusts to life in the Liverpool first team, there is a forward at the Academy who is more concerned with making up for lost time.
Layton Stewart was making his mark at the under-23 level when he suffered an ACL injury that sidelined him for 13 months in March of last year.
The 19-year-old returned before the end of the previous season and will now look to build on his promising pre-season form when Barry Lewtas’ side – now a U21 team – kicks off their Premier League 2 campaign against champions Manchester City at Kirkby on Sunday afternoon (kick-off 2pm).
“Layton returned towards the end of last season and it was fantastic to get him back on the pitch again,” says Lewtas. “He was training really well and we were able to give him some game time.
“It was a shame for us as a group, as well as Layton, that the season finished because we were in such good form, the lads were playing extremely well and Layton was really champing at the bit. Obviously in pre-season he’s played games, scored goals and looked a real threat. He’s not played in any walkovers, he’s played in tough, challenging games, so it’s a real promising pre-season for Layton.”
Stewart isn’t the only forward looking to make a mark for the Reds, who finished last season with just the one defeat in 12 games and can still call on the threat of Kaide Gordon, Melkamu Fraudendorf and Mateusz Musialowski plus the growing influence of defensive midfielder Stefan Bajcetic and right-back Isaac Mabaya.
Harvey Blair, who made his first-team debut last season, and goal machine Oakley Cannonier have made the step up from the U18s, and Lewtas admits: “This season we are pretty well loaded at the front end of the pitch, which is great and what we want with competition for places.
“We have a number of options in those attacking areas and we want to try to push players to play in as many positions as we can. We have a number of exciting players in the squad (but) it is a big step up from the U18s to the U21s in terms of the physicality.”
Bajectic, Frauendorf, Chambers and Mabaya were part of the first-team tour to the Far East this summer while Musialowski was involved in last weekend’s Anfield friendly with Strasbourg.
“I’ve said it before but we have a manager who gives young players a chance and the support from the likes of Pep (Lijnders) and Vitor (Matos) is fantastic,” says Lewtas. “We are always extremely fortunate that the first team are so keen to integrate the young players and fully integrate them into training. The lads have had an unbelievable experience for those that went to Asia, Austria and we’ve also had boys who have been involved when the first team have been back at the AXA.”
Liverpool will have teams in the Papa John Trophy and the returning Premier League International Cup, but City is the the first assignment.
“A really good game to start with,” adds Lewtas, speaking to liverpoolfc.com. “It’s two styles that really compliment and make it a good game, and at first-team level obviously as well. It will be two new teams in reality at U21 level but the same expectations will be there. We have had a really good pre-season in terms of what we wanted from it and we will see where we go.”