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Liverpool analysis – Arthur Melo makes his mark as two new midfield options emerge for Jurgen Klopp

Ian Doyle was at the Crown Oil Arena to see Liverpool U21s lose 1-0 against Rochdale in their EFL Trophy group game.

Arthur shows signs

 

It’s doubtful Arthur Melo had even heard of the Papa John’s Trophy before last week.

 

But it speaks volumes for the on-loan midfielder’s desire to succeed at Liverpool that he happily exchanged a few days off for the chance to travel down the M62 to take on League Two side Rochdale in the competition.

 

Having played the full 90 minutes for the under-21s in their Premier League 2 win at Leicester City on Saturday, the Brazil international got just over an hour under his belt here.

 

Arthur’s involvement was total, at one point briefly scalding James Norris for not finding him with a throw-in despite being closely marked. He wanted the ball as often as possible.

 

And while clearly not fully fit – Arthur arrived from Juventus at the start of the month having not played a game since May 11 – there were signs of what he may offer to Jurgen Klopp, particularly with his passing and willingness to get stuck in.

 

The presence of the Brazilian proved positive for a number of players, not least fellow midfielder Dom Corness, the skipper for the evening. And there was a nice moment when Arthur was replaced by Jay Spearing, the 33-year-old – who returned to the club this summer as an U18 coach – making his first competitive appearance for Liverpool since the Europa League win at Hearts more than 10 years ago.

 

Receiving the ball facing his own goal and with two Rochdale players fast approaching, Bajcetic showed lovely footwork and poise to drop his shoulder and turn away from his opponents and send Liverpool upfield.

 

And when the attack soon broke down, it was Bajectic who tracked back down the Rochdale right to prevent the tricky Tyrese Sinclair – son of former Chelsea defender Frank – from successfully countering.

 

It wasn’t the first time the 17-year-old had demonstrated his physicality, an earlier thundering challenge on Fermi Seriki putting the Rochdale man on his backside, winning possession and initiating a Liverpool attack.

 

The influence of Bajcetic’s spell in the first team was evident from the manner in which, even given his tender years, he strode confidently about his work, even if he was occasionally betrayed by a lack of experience.

 

That will come. And he, like Corness, will have learned some lessons playing alongside Arthur in midfield.

 

Stephenson rockets

 

Anyone who follows Liverpool’s Academy teams will know Luca Stephenson forged his reputation as a defensive midfielder at U18 level.

 

Since stepping up to the U21s this season, the 19-year-old has already featured at right-back in the 3-3 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

And the lengthy list of unavailable players meant Stephenson found himself in an unaccustomed centre-back role at Rochdale.

 

He was hugely impressive, composed on the ball – shades of his midfield upbringing – but knowing when to clear and demonstrating a happy knack of hunting down and blocking danger.

Alongside him, Oludare Olufunwa – a summer signing from Southampton – took a little while to grow into the game but was integral in keeping Rochdale at bay, particularly from set-pieces, in the second half.

 

Olufunwa deserved better than to end the game walking down the tunnel in visible frustration having been sent off for conceding the penalty from with goalkeeper Luke Hewitson, another fine performer on the night, pulled off a great save.

 

 

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