If success comes at the price of giving youngsters valuable experience, then everyone at Liverpool Football Club appears willing to pay up. A severely weakened Liverpool side went to Villa Park this evening in search of an unlikely progression into the final four of the Carabao Cup.
While Jürgen Klopp’s priorities are well-known, this is the first occasion in which his disinterest in the domestic cup competitions has kept him away from the game. As he and the first-team await the beginning of the Club World Cup tomorrow, they will have seen a young Liverpool side lose heavily with admirable bravery.
Though this may sound somewhat contradictory, Klopp will feel undeniable pride at the performance of the youngest team in Liverpool history. While the fixture congestion means that he won’t be on hand to dole out his customary hugs, he will praise the youngsters for playing their part in an ultimately beneficial experience.
The team, averaging 19 years old, started with a fearlessness typical of their age. Herbie Kane had a good chance which he blazed over the bar, while prodigious talent Harvey Elliott forced an excellent save over Villa ‘keeper Ørjan Nyland.
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Villa’s first goal actually came against the run of play, with Conor Hourihane scoring a free-kick which was intended as a ball into the box. There was a muted atmosphere as the obvious age gap between the sides became heightened, and the second goal scored a mere three minutes later punctuated that vibe.
A well-worked move from Villa saw Ahmed Elmohamady whip in an early cross which took a decisive deflection off debutant Morgan Boyes and into the net. Despite the lack of expectation in terms of a comeback, Liverpool fans were not dismayed by their side’s performance, acknowledging the element of fluke involved in both goals. Undoubtedly such flukes are less likely to occur with a more senior side, but there is no mistaking the talent amongst the Liverpool youth.
Harvey Elliott, who once again looked a cut-above, found Isaac Christie-Davies with a scooped ball that the latter volleyed at the Villa stopper, prompting a strong save.
The third finish from Villa was more about skill. Sepp van den Berg lost possession in a dangerous area, allowing Diogo Jota to flick the ball into the path of Jonathan Kodjia’s who flicked the ball past an onrushing Caoimhín Kelleher.
Kodjia waited a mere eight minutes for his second of the night, with a good team move culminating in an Elmohamady cross finding the striker who darts across the Liverpool rearguard to finish. As half-time approached, fans and management alike appeared unsure of where to position themselves — losing 4-0 is not normally acceptable, but this scoreline felt understandable, unfair even in light of positive Liverpool moments.
Liverpool were not to be dismayed as they began the second half, with an almost immediate response leading to a save from Villa’s goalkeeper. A Boyes shot found the thigh of Kane, resulting in another threat to the Villa goal.
Villa also had chances to add to their lead, which on another day they may have been more clinical in taking, with Douglas Luiz sending Trezeguet toward goal with a smart pass. The latter’s shot was saved by Kelleher, with the young Reds determined to ensure pride and promise could be taken from their efforts this evening.
As the game was expectedly petering out, Wesley scored a fifth goal to win the second half. Trezeguet carried the ball down the left and played Wesley in behind Sepp van den Berg. From there he swept the ball into the bottom corner.
With the outcome secured thoughts began turning to tomorrow evening in Qatar. Joining that party will be the once again superb Harvey Elliott, who emerged from tonight’s game with the most credit. Tony Gallacher also impressed in patches. There is no doubt that some of the players on display this evening won’t make the Liverpool grade, but they did their utmost to meet it this evening.
Ultimately Liverpool’s relative inexperience rendered it an almost unwinnable contest, with the only derivable victories those which surround the long-term progression of these young players. Liverpool’s fixture congestion has eased slightly, their younger players will have learned considerably, and now we return to the land of reasonable fixture scheduling.