Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Liverpool's young pups earn a dose of reality against Shrewsbury Town

By Alistair Hendrie

Liverpool’s Yasser Larouci learned a lesson as his side blew a two-goal lead against Shrewsbury Town on Sunday, leaving them with an FA Cup Fourth Round replay against Town on Tuesday which further bloats the Premier League leaders’ fixture list. After the French 19-year-old poked a toe across Joshua Laurent, hauling the Shrewsbury midfielder down for a penalty kick, Larouci discovered that mistakes cost games, outcomes turn in an instance, and moments like these shape careers. Jason Cummings scored the penalty and later equalised for Shewsbury. Knowing he was at fault, Larouci couldn’t protest when the referee pointed to the spot a moment earlier.

The France under-19s full-back is a prospect to be reckoned with and as Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, opted to rest his first team marathon men who are on course for the quintuple, Larouci was the next best option. He was one of four teenagers who Klopp selected on Sunday, along with midfielder Curtis Jones, 18, full-back Neco Williams, 18, and forward Harvey Elliott, 16.

All of whom are embedded in the Liverpool DNA, conditioned to Klopp’s philosophy of passing and moving and exploiting gaps down the flanks. That said, what they have in talent is offset by a lack of experience as the Club World Cup champions aim for a second shot at Shrewsbury. 

After streaking to a 2-0 lead with √©lan and professionalism, Larouci’s error was the catalyst for Liverpool’s downfall. As Laurent bore down on goal, twenty yards out with only Adrian between the sticks to beat, Larouci arrived too late on the scene, a passenger in the pivotal act.

He dangled a boot across his opponent and given the speed of the coming-together, plus Laurent’s unobstructed path forward, a penalty was inevitable. Without VAR, replays showed that the collision happened a yard outside the box, but Larouci found out how cruel first team football can be.

And though there is much to like about Williams, who also started the third round success over Everton, he nearly let in Shaun Whalley before Shrewsbury roared back. The Welshman was off the pace, too casual, as he allowed Callum Lang’s cross to bounce across his body for Whalley to shank wide. He should have rippled the net.

Then there’s Elliott, who in 2019 become the youngest man to play in the Premier League when he ran out for Fulham against Wolves at 16 years and 30 days. On Elliott’s day he can dazzle with creativity, fizzing past markers with the fearlessness of Joe Cole in his West Ham pomp.

Against Shrewsbury, though, he looked below par, unable to read any of Pedro Chirivella’s balls over the top. He seemed a little lost to be frank, and looked more than a little disconsolate as he sulked off to be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Still, for the first hour these youngsters had the beating of Shrewsbury and we saw how they can grind out results when they beat Everton, even though the chips were down and they didn’t create much throughout the 90 minutes.

Williams, for one, is confident on the ball and looks a carbon copy of his first team counterpart, Trent Alexander-Arnold, with his limitless energy and ability to bend crosses invitingly towards the penalty spot. Elliott has already showed his mettle too, helping the England under-17s win the Syrenka Cup in September by scoring in a penalty shoot-out.

Chirivella, who is one of the older reserves emerging at 22, displayed style and nous against Shrewsbury. He looked assured as either a water carrier or a playmaker in midfield, arcing balls towards Elliott which, not through lack of conviction, just evaded the forward. Playing 31 games in 2017-2018, on loan at Willem II in the Dutch Eredivise, will have done him the world of good. He combines the efficacy of N’Golo Kante with the all-action drive of his compatriot, Cesc Fabregas, when he first emerged at Arsenal.

While Liverpool’s cubs will look to make amends against Shrewsbury in the replay – Larouci in particular – they are in safe hands with Klopp. The German is revered for prioritising academy development whether at Mainz or Borussia Dortmund. He studies every age group down to schoolboy level, ensuring all of the club’s prospects are adhering to the same blueprint.

Interestingly, Klopp may not be in the country to see if Larouci and his teammates can mop up their spillages from the weekend. The replay occurs during the Premier League’s winter break and so the manager has hinted that he will take his first team on a training trip abroad, leaving under-23s boss Neil Critchley in charge.

There’s another school of thought that the weekend’s collapse could be exactly what Klopp’s kids need. A reality check. A dose of what professional football is all about. The new breed coming through look skilled enough to live up to the legacies of Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Steven Gerrard, but do they have the maturity to get by Shrewsbury at the second time of asking? It will be fascinating to find out.

Check out Alistair Hendrie’s Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, featuring insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more 

Friday, 3 January 2020

Manel Kape stuns Kai Asakura, sparking mayhem in Rizin bantamweight division

By Alistair Hendrie

By running through Kai Asakura at Rizin 20 on New Year’s Eve, Manel Kape shook up the 135lbs division, scuppered an all-Japanese rematch between Asakura and Kyoji Horiguchi and also scooped the vacant Rizin bantamweight title. The Angolan celebrated his round two TKO by dashing towards the injured Horiguchi, who was working as a ringside commentator, and planting a kiss on his former vanquisher’s temple. He’d announced himself as a major player and sealed it with a kiss.

Kape, 27, is now slated to defend against Hiromasa Ogikubo, who edged a slugfest against Shintaro Ishiwatari earlier in the event to add further intrigue at 135lbs. At the same weight Patrick Mix, visiting Japan as part of the Bellator roster, looked outstanding in taking out Yuki Motoya inside a round with a vicious guillotine choke from a mounted position. Bearing in mind those victorious fighters – not to mention Asakura and Horiguchi – fans of Rizin can now anticipate a series of thrilling rivalries in the promotion’s marquee division.

Kape walks the walk and talks the talk, after all. He gave himself the moniker “Mr Mother******* Champion” during his post-fight interview and also added that he now feels Japanese, having built a 6-3 record in The Land of the Rising Sun while competing on Rizin cards. Not a bad way to endear yourself to a packed-out Saitama Super Arena.

Read the rest of the article at Fighters Only

Check out Alistair Hendrie’s Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, featuring insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and more