A heavily rotated Liverpool exited the FA Cup with a 2-1 loss at Wolves, on a night that saw three teenagers handed their Reds’ debuts.
Wolves 2-1 Liverpool
FA Cup Third Round, Molineux
January 7, 2019
Goals: Jimenez 38′, Neves 55′; Origi 51′
Curtis and Camacho, senior Reds
The big chance they’ve been waiting for: Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho, two of the impressive youngsters from pre-season, were handed their senior debuts for Liverpool by Jurgen Klopp.
Camacho filled in at right-back, a beneficiary of Nathaniel Clyne‘s loan departure, while Jones played from the left side of the attacking midfield line.
It was the Portuguese youth international who was by far the more involved, trying to push forward at every opportunity and delivering a few crosses in the second half.
Jones had to make do with infrequent involvement in build-up play and hard work defensively, with most of the play seeming to stem down the Reds’ right.
In truth neither could show their absolute best abilities, but that wouldn’t really be expected on their debuts and in a much-changed team.
It’s a step-up from playing against the likes of League One or Two opponents in the summer, but an important step they’ve taken nonetheless.
Lovren’s injury and Ki-Jana the record breaker
What now for Liverpool at centre-back? It was looking precarious enough to begin with as Fabinho filled in alongside Dejan Lovren as the last alternative standing, but then Lovren himself went down with injury just two minutes in.
Klopp didn’t look best-pleased with the Croatian, but handed an immediate debut to a third youngster: Ki-Jana Hoever, just 16 years of age.
The Dutch starlet fared reasonably well, mixing some good interceptions with some clear moments of positional inexperience and getting caught on the ball once or twice, but it’s clear he has a long way to go—exactly as should be expected.
That said, a late intervention and quick burst forward showed his enormous promise, too.
But the question will remain for Klopp: What happens in the next league game?
Virgil van Dijk will return and it now looks probable he’ll be partnered by midfielder Fabinho, but the return of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez can’t come quickly enough.
Disappointing night of action from senior squad members
Naby Keita, Daniel Sturridge, Xherdan Shaqiri, Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi: Mission failed.
None can claim to have put in a good performance, or even halfway reasonable display in all honesty.
Yes, Origi scored, a hopeful lashed effort, but aside from that his movement was poor and he offered little threat for most of the night.
Sturridge was anonymous, Keita frequently lacking a solid touch or pass…the list went on.
It was a night when the rotation players needed to find their range and rhythm, showcase why they should have more involvement going forward and put pressure on the starters—as well as gain more game time for themselves in future with a win.
A night failed on all accounts, unfortunately.
Calling upon the key men
Most fans didn’t want to see Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and a few others in the squad, never mind on the pitch.
Even at 2-1 down, a Twitter poll from This Is Anfield showed almost 60% of fans wanted the duo to remain firmly sat in the dugout; this was a game for resting, not bringing them back in.
Instead, Jurgen Klopp opted to bring them both on and chase the game, but neither could have a real impact.
No injuries were picked up, thankfully, but the added accumulation of minutes will still impact to a point going forward.
That they were called upon at all speaks volumes of the aforementioned seniors who couldn’t produce when called upon.
Fans were split ahead of the game as to whether the focus should be fully on the Premier League title challenge, or else attempt to win another trophy with the FA Cup.
Now it doesn’t matter: defeat takes that choice away from the Reds, leaving just the league as domestic action for the remainder of the season.
Indeed, domestic cups account for just two games this term for Liverpool, who exited at the first attempt in the League Cup earlier in the season, as well.
Rest and recuperation can be factored in with just the Champions League as an added competition to challenge for, meaning the Reds have a minimum of 19 matches left to play—and a maximum of 25.
Injuries which can’t be accounted for aside, there won’t be much reason to chop and change, other than for form and tactical choice.
It’s full steam ahead and the title challenge, for better or worse, takes absolute precedence for the next five matches.