Liverpool U23s boss Neil Critchley has provided insight into the invaluable support given to his squad by Reds legends Steve McManaman and Rob Jones.

The duo, who between them made 607 appearances for the club, are regular visitors to Kirkby and ready to offer the youngsters a helping hand in their footballing journey.

Critchley’s charges are back in Premier League 2 action on Monday night as they face West Ham United at Dagenham and Redbridge FC.

Kick-off is at 7pm GMT and you can watch the match live on LFCTV and LFCTV GO.

Read on for Critchley’s pre-match thoughts, including the influence of McManaman and Jones, the first-team opportunities for young players, the return of Rhian Brewster, and a fond farewell to Matty Virtue…

On the support given to Critchley and the Academy staff by McManaman and Jones…

Their enthusiasm is incredible really and they are a huge help to me on a personal level as well. They are both very grounded and level-headed and they give you the right types of advice at the right time. They are just good people and they don’t realise sometimes the impact they have on me and the players. It’s hugely beneficial for us and we are very fortunate to have two people, two ex-players, who are like that and long may that continue for us.

On the likes of Adam Lewis, Nat Phillips, Corey Whelan and Isaac Christie-Davies being with the first-team squad in Marbella this week…

To go and spend a week with the first team is an invaluable experience for them and as always you have to make sure you leave a good impression in front of the manager, the staff and the players, and I’m sure they will take a lot from it. They are there on merit and they’ve got to know it’s not a given that they go up to Melwood and then stay there. It’s not a formality, they have to earn it, prove themselves and not just make the numbers up. The manager will have seen how they behave, not just on the pitch but off it as well. It will be interesting to see what they take from that week away.

On the other young players taking inspiration from seeing their teammates get first-team opportunities…

Our manager has always shown that he is willing to give the youngsters an opportunity. He is a big believer in giving young players a chance but they have to be good enough. That’s our job and why we are here to provide him hopefully with those players. The boys sense that opportunity and they know it could be there for them. That must give them optimism and fuels the fire.

On the sight of Brewster being back on the training field after a lengthy absence through injury…

It’s great to see Rhian back. He’s been out for too long really but injuries are part and parcel of football. He has remained positive throughout his rehabilitation programme, he has had good support from the physios at Melwood and the players down there. He would have been hugely frustrated at not playing but he’s a very positive boy and hopefully he can remain injury-free and start to build up his general fitness, get his rhythm back and we’ll see where he is in the next few weeks.

On a number of youngsters from the U18s getting recent opportunities at U23 level…

You normally find at this stage of the season that will be the case when you see some players start to move into the U23s and some of the U16 players will then step up to the U18s. I think that natural progression will start to happen over the next few weeks. Some of the U18s have already had a taste of it and rightly so because they’ve been playing well. They might be ready for that next test so it’s up to us to provide the right opportunities and the right type of experiences at the right time for the players. There’s always another level you should be striving for and as you go up through the age groups the jumps get a little bit bigger and a bit more difficult and that’s what we found when some of the players from the U18s made the jump to the U23s last season. It took some of them a while to adapt to the new level and then obviously the jump from U23 to first-team level is the biggest one of them all. The boys have acquitted themselves reasonably well playing for the U23s but it would be unfair to judge them too much at the moment and we’ve got to give them time to adapt. Hopefully by the end of the season they will have shown their capabilities at U23 level.

LFCTV GO: Watch the latest Academy Show featuring Dan Atherton and Adam Lewis

On his side drawing six of their last seven games…

We have changed the shape of the team. We have played a number of systems but we changed our shape to suit the players. Our principles stay the same but we don’t have to stick to one formation. It’s amazing how much a change in formation can have an influence on the type of game that you play. We have become more solid defensively because of that and we are harder to beat but maybe we have taken away some of our attacking threat as well. We’ve got to try to strike that balance a little bit better at the moment, keep the ball a little bit better and create a few more opportunities to score more goals.

On facing a West Ham side who won 2-1 in Kirkby back in September…

We actually played very well in that game but that performance sort of summed up the way it was going for us at the start of the season. The performances were very good and the only thing that was missing from our game was taking our chances, which would have turned a lot of draws into wins. We lost that day against West Ham and anybody who watched that game will say we were the better team and should have won that game. Their goalkeeper had an outstanding game. I think Monday night will be a different game and a tough encounter. We played extremely well against them at Dagenham and Redbridge last season so it’s another game that we are really looking forward to. West Ham have had one or two players to make it through to their first team in recent history, they have got good staff and a good history of producing their own players. It makes for a really good game.

On the form of on-loan Herbie Kane, who scored a brilliant goal last week for Doncaster Rovers against Southend…

Herbie has had a fantastic season. He is playing at a good level at the top end of League One and it’s his first loan, first time he’s played men’s football. You have to prove yourself to the manager and the players and he has done that. Straight away he made an instant impact and what has been great credit to Herbie is he has managed to stay like that. He has been consistent, game in, game out. He is more or less one of the first names on their teamsheet, which is brilliant for a young player like Herbie. He has proved to be a valuable member of their squad and hopefully Doncaster can have a good end to the season.

On the recent permanent departure of U23s captain Virtue to Blackpool…

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I first walked into the Academy and Matty was somebody who was a little bit behind in his physical development and he was on a different programme to the other boys. We knew we would have to wait for him to physically develop. He believed in us, as did his parents, and we believed in Matty. Everyone’s pathway is different and with his attitude he is very level-headed and very consistent. Matty is someone I would always recommend to other managers and coaches. I expect Matty to go on and do really well for Blackpool and beyond in his future years. He’s in good hands, I know the manager and some of the players, and he goes into a really good dressing room with good characters. Matty will be a valuable addition to Blackpool and hopefully they can have a good end to the season. I think we do very well with having close ties with players who leave and it’s something we are looking to develop further. We are very proud of the boys and we know it’s very difficult to play for our first team. If they can’t do that then our next step is to provide an opportunity for them to have a career elsewhere and when they do the staff are just as proud. We always talk about them constantly and we love following their journeys because once you are from Liverpool, a Liverpool Academy player, you are always one of ours.

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