Liverpool saw off League Two side Plymouth Argyle at the second time of asking with a 1-0 win at Home Park, where the Reds were far from convincing but got the job done.
Plymouth 0–1 Liverpool
FA Cup Third Round Replay, Home Park
18th January, 2017
Goal: Lucas 19’
Jurgen Klopp’s men/youngsters ensured their place in round four where they will play Championship side Wolves after grabbing a narrow victory in Devon.
The Reds instantly took control of the tie just like at Anfield, but this time they made their dominance count when Lucas headed his first goal since 2010 from Philippe Coutinho’s corner.
Divock Origi missed a penalty on 87 minutes that would have sealed the tie once and for all, but the young Reds held on for victory.
It was far from a vintage performance from Liverpool but was a case of job done, and here are the talking points from the win, including a missed opportunity for Origi and Daniel Sturridge.
Captain Lucas leads
Plymouth away on a Tuesday night for a FA Cup third-round replay is a contest that certainly won’t live long in the memory.
But it will always be a special occasion for Lucas, who netted his first goal for seven years and 201 games, giving the Reds the all-important win to move into round four.
The rare strike will possibly be Lucas’ last in a Reds shirt, but it wasn’t his only contribution on the night – even if it was the most significant.
The Brazilian produced a hugely commendable, committed all-round showing at the heart of defence, all while carrying a painful knee injury that Klopp even said pre-match could keep him out if he didn’t train on Tuesday afternoon.
But to his credit, Lucas soldiered on to lead by example, and perhaps the most commendable contribution given his injury was his goal-saving block that followed just a minute after he scored – throwing his body in the way to deny what looked a certain equaliser.
It was clear to see the pain he was in as he hobbled throughout when not directly involved in play, and that he came up with the all-important winner seemed a fitting moment for his selfless display.
Contrasting night for Liverpool’s full-backs
On a night of few standout performances for Liverpool, one player that did impress was the energetic and defensively sound Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back.
However, the same can’t be said for his left-sided equivalent, Alberto Moreno, who turned in a worryingly poor performance on the opposite flank.
Indeed, Alexander-Arnold looked like the established professional of the two, producing another solid display just three days after making what will have been a mentally and physically draining first Premier League start at Old Trafford.
The teenager showed great athleticism to support attacks with well-timed runs, but more pleasingly a raw instinct to defend as he got in sensible positions to make vital clearances and one goal-saving tackle with a great last ditch sliding intervention.
Putting it bluntly, he showed everything Moreno failed to.
Though the Spaniard won the late penalty, Moreno lacked intensity going forward and quality with his deliveries – as shown with his woeful cross produced as he was fouled for the spot-kick.
Most disappointingly, his defensive work was once again poor, as he was beaten easily, slow to react to danger and forced an injured Lucas out of position to cover him numerous times – showing no signs of learning from the errors that have rendered him a back-up figure.
It was the display of a man who looks like he has accepted his time at Anfield is now up, which going by his performance, may be the right thing for all parties.
Missed opportunity for Origi and Sturridge
Starting in tandem as Liverpool’s strike duo, the cup tie presented a big chance for Klopp’s go-to strikers to prove their candidacy for Liverpool’s main striking role.
But neither man took the opportunity presented in Devon, with both failing to produce the sort of performance Klopp will have been looking for with disappointingly passive displays.
Sturridge seemed to be at odds with teammates all night – especially Coutinho who attempted to bring the striker into the game time and again – with his touch constantly letting him down and sharpness on the ball missing.
His lack of urgency at a time Klopp will have looked towards the England international to step up will no doubt have frustrated the boss, and contributed to his decision to withdraw Sturridge and hand a debut to Harry Wilson after 76 minutes.
It was a similarly uninspiring night for Origi, who was also on the fringes of the action for the majority of the night, with his touch similarly sloppy and lack of work-rate proving unhelpful.
The Belgian’s missed penalty late on, a poor strike that was an easy save for Luke McCormick, summed up his night.
Following these displays, Roberto Firmino looks set to stay as the Reds’ first choice striker for the foreseeable future – the fact the duo played on Wednesday suggests the Brazilian will again lead the line on Saturday against Swansea.
Debut delight for Wilson
The night will have been special for another of the Reds involved, that being Harry Wilson who will be thrilled to have made his Liverpool debut at Home Park.
Replacing Coutinho for the final 25 minutes of the tie, Wilson’s introduction was the perfect reward for his fine form for Michael Beale’s under-23 side, where he has impressed hugely this season scoring 19 goals and posting 9 assists.
Wilson’s introduction saw him become the 13th academy product to debut under Klopp’s guidance, with the German boss yet again reaffirming his commitment to the club’s budding hopefuls.
With Portuguese midfielder, Paulo Alves, also on the bench and the number of youngsters involved on the night in general, it was yet another productive evening for all involved at the academy.
With the level of talent coming through, there will be many more to come.
Reds set for season-shaping 10 days
Liverpool will take Wednesday’s win and look to move on quickly, and it’s vital they do as they prepare for a season-defining run that begins on Saturday with the first of four vital games in 10 days.
Swansea arrive at Anfield this weekend for the first fixture – which is a ‘must win’ – of a make-or-break run which ends with a do-or-die clash against Chelsea on Merseyside on 31st January.
The crucial league games are separated by a cup double-header – a win-or-bust semi-final second leg against Southampton and the visit of Wolves in the FA Cup fourth round, which comes just xx days before Antonio Conte’s side arrive.
Coming in a month that has already seen the Reds play five matches, a huge effort will be required of Klopp’s men in this unrelenting run which, if there is one positive, sees all four games played at Anfield.
Klopp will look to use this to his advantage as his side look to step up their pursuit of the title, secure a Wembley return and continue their journey to the latter stages of the FA Cup. It could of course work the other way.
Indeed, a season-shaping 10 days awaits.