Oakley Cannonier will be given more UEFA Youth League opportunities after making his mark in European competition this season.
Given Oakley Cannonier unwittingly shot to prominence on a famous Champions League night at Anfield, it perhaps should be no surprise the Liverpool youngster is already making waves in European competition.
Cannonier, the ball boy who allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold to deliver a famously quickly-taken corner against Barcelona in 2019, struck a memorable hat-trick in midweek as the Reds’ under-19 side continued an impressive start to their UEFA Youth League campaign with a 4-0 triumph over Ajax at Kirkby.
The 18-year-old had notched the winner in the 2-1 victory at Napoli the previous week, with his strike in last season’s round of 16 tie against Genk meaning he has now scored five times in his last four games in the competition.
And with Europe having been identified as an arena where Cannonier can gain valuable experience and minutes, his continued impact has been particularly instructive.
That extra step up is a step up but he’s finding his way and it’s really nice,” says Barry Lewtas, the U21s coach who is taking charge of Liverpool’s UEFA Youth League team this season. “I felt like last season when we played Jarell Quansah and Billy Koumetio together at centre-back in the 19s, it showcased their talents. It’s Oakley’s turn this year.
“Sometimes when you move up it can be difficult and it’s the same for Oakley. He trains very well, we’ve known he’s going to play these games and he took his goals really well. We’re really pleased with him.”
Cannonier produced three poacher’s finishes against Ajax having the previous week converted at the near post in Italy following good work by Ben Doak on the right flank.
In contrast to his ongoing European exploits and 33 goals in all competitions last season, Cannonier has yet to score for the U21s this term having made the move up from the U18s, although he has been limited to just one start and five brief cameo appearances with Layton Stewart also competing for the number nine role.
I’d have to be fair to him and say he hasn’t played many times for us, so a lack of goals isn’t a concern for us,” says Lewtas. “We knew we’d get a run of games where he was going to be heavily involved and the Youth League was a big part of that. Obviously he’s scored the winner against Napoli and a hat-trick against Ajax, so he’ll be banging on my door for more games now!
In terms of the goal against Napoli, he’s going to be scoring a lot of them because his movement is very good and he picks up good positions between the posts. I thought his first goal against Ajax was a real striker’s goal. I think for him as he starts to get a little bit older he will weigh up the percentages of what type of goals he’s going to score. He’s just got to find that balance.
“He’s got the ability to finish and can get into good positions between the posts as well. I think we do get into good crossing areas so I think we’ll be able to help him there.”
Cannonier isn’t the only youngster to have impressed in the early stages of the UEFA Youth League. Doak, along with U18s team-mate Trent Kone-Doherty, has similarly caught the eye in what is largely an U21 team, while Luke Chambers, Isaac Mabaya and James Norris all excelled against Ajax, who have a renowned youth set-up in Holland.
“I think it shows we can compete and we can play,” adds Lewtas of the display against Ajax. “What was pleasing was the mentality. We were 1-0 up at half-time but we weren’t daft about how we approached the second half, we knew they caused us problems for the last 20 of the first half. It was the same in Napoli, we’re developing good players but also players with a really strong mentality as well. We’ve shown that in these two games in particular.
“I enjoy this competition because it allows us to take a step back and maybe realise that the players we have are only young but there’s a lot of attention around them all. So I have been really pleased not just technically and tactically but also from a mentality point of view as well.”