The media felt a young Liverpool side paid the price for a lack of creativity as they were held to a goalless draw by Plymouth Argyle on Sunday.
Liverpool kicked off their FA Cup campaign in underwhelming style after being forced to an unwanted third-round replay by the League Two side at Anfield.
The Reds predictably bossed the entire game but were unable to make their superiority count, thus adding to an already congested schedule which leaves Jurgen Klopp’s side having to play up to nine games this month.
It was a hugely disappointing performance from the Reds, despite being the youngest starting lineup fielded in the club’s history, and the display should have been markedly better than that produced.
Here is how the media assessed the goalless stalemate.
Reporters discussed Klopp’s decision to heavily rotate his team as he made 10 changes, including introducing five teenagers, with journalists offering mixed views over the manager’s selection.
The Mail’s Ian Ladyman was among those who felt the decision “backfired”:
“There will be much conversation now about the team that Klopp picked for Liverpool.
“On reflection, the Liverpool manager’s decision backfired a little.”
ESPN’s Steven Kelly labelled Klopp’s decision “a waste of time” and thinks the Reds boss is struggling to “effectively rotate his squad”:
“Resting almost an entire team, only to then add one more fixture to an already-congested January schedule, was a waste of time.
ESPN’s Glenn Price thought Klopp’s selection was “understandable”:
“Klopp’s decision to rest many of his regulars was more than understandable after a busy week and given the important games on the horizon.”
Meanwhile, the Liverpool Echo’s James Pearce believes Klopp got his selection “spot on”:
“The outcome doesn’t change the fact that Klopp got his selection spot on. The reality is that Liverpool have got much bigger fish to fry than Plymouth this week.
“With Wednesday night’s EFL Cup semi-final first leg at Southampton followed by next Sunday’s crunch Premier League clash with Manchester United, Klopp was right to give so many of his big guns a breather.”
In a somewhat bold statement, the Guardian’s Andy Hunter felt even a full-strength Reds lineup would have struggled to break Plymouth’s resistance:
“Klopp had no regrets over ringing the changes for the FA Cup third round but even with a full complement—and Liverpool ended the tie with a forward line of Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana—it would have been difficult to pick a hole in a 10-man Plymouth rearguard.”
Looking ahead to upcoming games, Pearce even pondered whether Klopp should repeat his selection for the League Cup semi-final first leg away to Southampton, given the Reds’ position in the title race:
“There’s a school of thought that the manager should actually do something similar at St Mary’s in midweek.
“Liverpool are bang in the title race and nothing should be allowed to jeopardise their chances of triumphing at Old Trafford.”
Reporters were naturally disappointed with Liverpool’s performance, and felt the Reds paid the price for lacking sharpness and invention, as well as general urgency in the display.
The Mirror’s David Maddock thought Klopp’s side lacked ambition on the ball:
“Liverpool’s youngsters perhaps didn’t show enough imagination with their 80 percent possession. They totally dominated the game, obviously, but too often took the easy option around the box, where their passing wasn’t incisive enough.”
The Independent’s Simon Hughes noted the Reds’ lack of “speed and imagination”:
“Liverpool did not do enough to win; failing to perform with the level of speed necessary to out-think and break down an opponent, which quite understandably had only one target in mind: the result that transpired.”
Writing for Goal, Melissa Reddy attributed Liverpool’s struggles to a lack of patience and poor decision-making:
“They had, like the large cruise liners that dock in the Mersey, anchored themselves in front of the dominant hosts, who lacked the patience and decision-making to foil their deep defensive line.”
Maddock also felt Liverpool’s buildup play was too ponderous, and that they lacked the individual brilliance needed:
“Yet Klopp’s boys were too ponderous in their unlimited possession, too safe passing back and sideways, which allowed Plymouth the chance to reorganise on the rare occasions they were unsettled or out of shape.
“The fact remains though, that Liverpool were much too slow in their buildup, and Can apart, no one on the pitch in a red shirt seemed to relish the chance offered to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and become a hero.”
Kelly was frustrated by the Reds’ lack of desire until late on:
“Liverpool had the players and the possession to win this FA Cup third-round tie comfortably but there was simply no urgency until it was too late and desperation set in.”
The watching reporters discussed the collective and individual fortunes of the Reds’ youngsters, with certain journalists noting that the game would have provided a valuable lesson for future first-team involvement.
Firstly, Price felt the game proved the youngsters aren’t as ready for the big stage as those in charge may think:
“There is a belief in Liverpool’s Kirkby academy that, on occasions, the club’s U23s would have been able to beat Football League teams this season.
“The theory was put to the test on Sunday for the encounter with Plymouth, as seven reserves started at Anfield. The verdict? These young professionals have a long way to go.”
Ladyman felt the young Reds had their limitations exposed:
“There was no youthful inspiration, just examples of current limitations. This happens to young players, it was just a shame that so many under-performed in one go.”
Oppositely, Pearce felt it was a day of learning curves:
“After all the plaudits that have rightly been thrown in the youngsters’ direction this season, this disappointment will be an important part of their learning curve.
“One off day shouldn’t dent anyone’s faith in the calibre of talent emerging from the Kirkby Academy.”
Though not a game that will be remembered for individual displays, certain reporters offered thoughts on who came out with credit and who failed to inspire on the day.
Reddy was impressed by Joe Gomez’s display after his long injury layoff:
“The 19-year-old, featuring in his preferred centre-back position for the first time since signing from Charlton in the summer of 2015 having been used as a left-back by previous manager Brendan Rodgers, was composed, strong and showed snapshots of his stellar recovery speed and reading of the game.”
Pearce drew a positive from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s display:
“Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was one of five teenagers in the starting lineup, could hold his head high. The young full-back always provided an attacking outlet as he rampaged forward at every opportunity.”
Elsewhere, Kelly pulled no punches in his assessment of Emre Can’s performance:
“A shoddy, almost disinterested performance that ended when he was hauled off after an hour. Can seemed more concerned about arguing with Plymouth defenders than encouraging his young teammates. If his selection was a warning after a subdued display at Sunderland, he did nothing to encourage Klopp he’d learned his lesson. Quite the opposite in fact, though he certainly looked tired.”
Finally, Maddock felt Daniel Sturridge’s cameo was bright:
“Whatever you say about his injury problems, Daniel Sturridge is a class act, and you can see why managers are prepared to be patient with him. When he came on as a second-half sub the game was transformed, and you could see the fear in the visiting defence.”