Liverpool sent out a much-changed side for the FA Cup Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday and the youngsters still proved too good for Everton.
Liverpool 1-0 Everton
FA Cup third round, Anfield
5 January, 2020
Goal: Jones 70′
It was apparent, in the lead-up to the game as much as once the lineup was announced, that the fanbase was somewhat split over the priorities and the possibilities for this game.
Some wanted a strong team, given it was a derby and with a week of rest ahead before the next game, while others would have been perfectly happy to see the U16s, or perhaps the LFC Legends team, take to the field, resting every senior starter.
Maybe the James Milner injury, mere minutes after kick-off, suggests the latter group had slightly more of the right of the matter.
In truth, despite Everton playing a full-strength side, this young and somewhat rag-tag Liverpool lineup was frequently still the match of their opponents.
There were dodgy moments at the back, as you’d expect with two debutants and one with just a handful of games—plus the backup keeper—but on the ball and positionally, this was further evidence that all squad and youth players train the same way and learn the same way as Jurgen Klopp‘s first XI.
The talk of the town was, of course, a debut for new signing Takumi Minamino.
He was certainly busy early on, showing a few quick touches and plenty of work rate, but real chances to create or link with lots of team-mates around him were at a premium in the first half.
The Kop gave him a great welcome, as you might expect, but there will be plenty more anticipation surrounding his first outings with Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah or Naby Keita around him.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect was him lining up in Firmino’s position, the roving centre-forward, rather than as a wide option or an attacking midfielder.
At times he seemed a little unable to cope with playing that role alone—perhaps a few switches with left-sided Origi would have helped—but it’s certainly a positive for the Reds to have another option in that attacking line.
Minamino played 70 minutes on his debut, being replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Which kids impressed?
There was one absolute stand-out in the first half: Neco Williams at right-back.
He has improved markedly this year, progressing from a good, though unspectacular, defender—even at youth level—to looking like a Trent-lite, in playing style and physicality.
His crossing was superb on several occasions, from deep or on the run near the byline, while he also defended aggressively against Richarlison and showed plenty of ability to produce massive crossfield passes. One very good piece of defending saw him hold up Everton one-on-one in the Reds’ box, before help arrived to clear.
Elsewhere, Harvey Elliott‘s work rate was excellent, his willingness to switch wings, link play and take on his man were all superb—he plays the game like a 26-year-old, not a record-setter as the youngest-ever starter in Liverpool history.
And a final word for Curtis Jones, neat and tidy all game, very good on the ball and always capable of picking a pass….and scorer of the most brilliant, delightful, Coutinho-esque strike to win a derby you’ll likely ever see.
Great going from the kids, but we also need to acknowledge a few senior players who played a massive role.
In fact, without Adrian producing heroics in the first half, it’s fair to say there would have been no Jones winner, no jubilant scenes; Alisson‘s reserve made three really good first-half saves, two with his feet, to keep Everton at bay.
That he had very little to do after the break is testament to the Reds’ improvement, but also shows the tragic level that Everton‘s first team remains at.
A nod of appreciation, too, for Adam Lallana, who played very well in the second half.
And Joe Gomez: utterly superb, all game long, and back in the form of his life over the last few weeks. Keep that up!
Recuperation and return to league action
As mentioned above, there’s a change of pace ahead for the Reds.
After the crazy run of games before, during and just after the Christmas period, we now face the unusual prospect of one game in the next 13 days.
Spurs await next weekend, then it’s Man United the following one: plenty of time for Klopp to rest those who need it, prepare a more detailed approach than usual in training and ensure the Reds batter these two would-be rivals.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return to fitness has come much sooner than expected, a huge boost especially in light of Milner’s injury, and hopefully in this next period we may see a return of Fabinho or one of the others.
Meanwhile, the long, long wait for Everton to win at Anfield just keeps getting longer—they really couldn’t have had a bigger opportunity than this one.
The treble is still on…!