Gerrard enjoying coaching challenges as Liverpool U-19s beat Man United
BIRKENHEAD, England -- Steven Gerrard is getting his first taste of the volatile world of management. The ups and downs are now beginning to arrive in the 37-year-old's coaching career, one that's barely 12 months old.
Entering 2018, Gerrard hadn't lost a competitive game in management but the former Liverpool and England captain headed into Liverpool Under-19's high-profile UEFA Youth League tie with Manchester United on Wednesday on the back of four consecutive losses. Yet a win over Liverpool's fiercest rivals on a European stage may appear to make the devastating lows all the more worthwhile.
Indeed, Gerrard will now take his team to Manchester City for the quarterfinals of the prestigious youth tournament after a 2-0 victory over United at Prenton Park thanks to goals from Ben Woodburn and Rafael Camacho.
"The lads have had a tough month and so have the staff," said Gerrard said after the match. "I think it's important that we enjoy this win first.
"It's a big performance and the lads need to enjoy this performance and enjoy that taste of winning again because it's been a while."
The decision to allow Woodburn, Liverpool's youngest-ever goal scorer, to play and captain the side on Wednesday highlighted just how seriously the club and Gerrard are taking the competition. One Liverpool youngster not available, however, was England U-17 superstar Rhian Brewster, who is set to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his ankle.
The philosophy of Gerrard's teams replicate his playing style: attacking, bold and ultimately aesthetically pleasing. They initially took the game to United, with the resulting pressure leading Liverpool to take an early lead through a Woodburn header.
"They started with a [midfield] diamond early on, we knew the space was on the sides and we killed them for 35 minutes," said Gerrard. "We should have got that second goal; we could have made that second half easy for ourselves."
The rookie coach spends most of the time observing his players from a standing position on the touchline. He is loud with his instructions but rarely animated in the same way as his superior, Jurgen Klopp. However, that reserved body manner deteriorated after half-time when United were beginning to assert some control.
Ultimately, it was one of Gerrard's decisions that earned Liverpool a deserved victory. Bringing on the energetic Camacho late on against a tiring opponent worked wonders when the former Manchester City trainee scored a brilliant long-range goal to seal Liverpool's place in the last eight.
The unbridled joy Camacho's goal brought was clear to see on the Liverpool coach's face. In what was the biggest game of Gerrard's managerial career to date, Liverpool's youngsters delivered a timely, convincing display.
"Game over" were Gerrard's thoughts when the second goal went in, adding: "I want to win and I want these kids to go and have the challenge against Manchester City. It wasn't even relief; it was just like a reward for them because I know how hard they've worked for it."
Even at this level, any pitting of Liverpool and United draws international attention, especially now that Gerrard is involved. This youth tie was broadcast in 11 territories across the globe, ranging from Russia to the Caribbean.
It is these occasions, Gerrard feels, that help youngsters prepare for the rigours of senior professional football. That's why it was a particular shame that a minimal crowd was in attendance at the home of Tranmere Rovers due to the afternoon kick-off in the middle of a working week.
"This UEFA Youth League match was selected by UEFA to be televised and shared to all the broadcast partners of the competition," a UEFA spokesperson told ESPN FC.
"As per the competition regulations regarding televised matches, UEFA is entitled to select the date and kick-off time in consultancy with both teams." It was a chance missed for the players on display to feature in a setting that replicated something similar to that of a first-team environment.
"Playing United, a big rival, comes with extra pressure, extra responsibility that comes with the game," Gerrard concluded. "It's more of a buzz, it's more excitement.
"Coming up against an old teammate of mine [Man United U-19 manager Nicky Butt] and the rivalry that's gone on for many, many years, of course it makes the tie a bit more juicy. There's a little bit more pressure and edge around it.
"That's why I'm sitting here, because I want that. I want that challenge. The reason I want that challenge is because I can't go and find it myself as a player anymore, so the next best thing is coaching."
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.