A COVID-19 outbreak forced Aston Villa to play their youth team, but they actually gave Liverpool a good game and should be proud of their efforts.
With Jurgen Klopp naming practically a full-strength side, Liverpool opened the scoring within five minutes, with Sadio Mane scoring from a header. The Reds dominated possession, and it looked like a hammering was about to take place. But Villa’s kids hung tough.
And incredibly, on 41 minutes, Callum Rowe stole the ball and threaded a beautiful pass to former Barcelona academy player Louie Barry. Barry still had work to do, but he shrugged off Rhys Williams's challenge and calmly slotted the ball home, stunning Liverpool and their boss Jurgen Klopp.
Villa’s kids continued to defend well in the early part of the second half, frustrating Liverpool, but eventually the pressure told. After Mo Salah had a goal disallowed, Georginio Wijnaldum slotted home from distance. And within three minutes, Liverpool were 1-4 up, with Mane and Salah adding the Reds’ third and fourth goals.
Liverpool continued to pile on the pressure from there, but Villa hung tough, and in the end, should walk away with their heads held high.
Here are five talking points from Liverpool’s FA Cup win over Aston Villa.
#1 Why did Jurgen Klopp name such a strong Liverpool side?
The big question from tonight’s game has to be why Jurgen Klopp chose to name such a strong Liverpool side. Sure, Alisson, Roberto Firmino, and Trent Alexander-Arnold were given a rest. But the Reds still started the match with Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Fabinho in their line-up.
Had Klopp not been aware of Villa’s need to play their youth side, perhaps this would’ve been understandable. After all, Liverpool were destroyed 7-2 in their last visit to Villa Park and were probably smarting for revenge.
However, Villa’s COVID-19 outbreak was reported yesterday, and their enforced decision to play the tie with their academy players was announced this morning.
So considering Klopp’s constant – and often aggressive – complaints about the 2020-21 season’s scheduling and the damage it’s done to his squad, it seemed highly hypocritical for him to use the likes of Salah and Mane in tonight’s game.
This FA Cup tie was practically a bye for Liverpool when Villa’s intentions were made clear, and it was the perfect chance for Klopp to give his key men a rest. The fact that he didn’t should mean he has no room for any more complaining.
#2 Villa performed remarkably well given the circumstances
Given the fact that they were forced to field a side of youth players – all of whom had no first-team experience to speak of – Aston Villa performed remarkably well in this game.
Sure, the statistics and the scoreline show that this was a thoroughly one-sided match in favor of Liverpool. The Reds not only came away with a 1-4 victory, but they also had 83% possession and 29 shots. 13 of those were on target, and most of the game took place deep inside Villa’s half.
And yet Louie Barry took his goal marvelously. Villa’s young defenders – Callum Rowe, Mungo Bridge, Dominic Revan, and Jake Walker did brilliantly to restrict Liverpool’s star-studded attack, particularly in the first half.
Add in the solid performance from goalkeeper Akos Onodi – who made eight saves and had no chance with any of Liverpool’s goals – and Aston Villa youth team manager Mark Delaney should be massively proud of his youngsters.
Whether any of them make it through to the top level is a massive question mark, but at least a handful of them clearly have the potential to do so – so watch this space.