Liverpool’s youngest ever team gave a superb account of themselves and secured a remarkable, memorable and thoroughly deserved 1-0 win over Shrewsbury.
Liverpool 1-0 Shrewsbury
FA Cup Fourth Round Replay, Anfield
February 4, 2020
Goals: Williams OG 76’
The FA vs. The People
Who is in the wrong here? There were rumblings that Liverpool had insisted the game be played Tuesday night, but it’s the FA who have opted against televising the match, seemingly depriving Shrewsbury of over £70,000 in broadcast money in the process.
And the decision to barely sell the rights to any overseas broadcasters was even more strange to behold; plenty of supporters outside of the UK should still have been able to view the game, but few were given the chance in the end.
How was that decision of benefit to the FA and to their own flagship competition?
The greatest club in world football right now, the team most of interest in the entire nation for sure, and they opt against displaying Liverpool and their talented youngsters.
Whether it was a spiteful riposte to the stars not being on show or, at the other end of the scale, a genuine decision that people wouldn’t want to see untested teenagers in action, the choice was hilariously wrong.
We are @LFC!! And we do it on @EmiratesFACup as well!!#ADR13N ??? pic.twitter.com/2UXfgo5Voo
— Adrián San Miguel (@AdriSanMiguel) February 4, 2020
Whether it’s tracking helicopters and planes, making long-distance treks across Europe to take over far-flung cities or, apparently, managing to find a barely-broadcasted fixture on home soil…Reds always find a way.
Curtis Jones, record-breaker
As the most senior member of the squad on the night—by recent first-team involvement, rather than by age—Curtis Jones was named captain of Liverpool—the youngest-ever player to have the honour bestowed upon him at 19 years and five days.
Could he handle it? You bet.
Early on he kept the passing game simple, but it wasn’t all that long before he showcased the individual technique which makes him so highly rated, spinning his way past a defender, nutmegging him on the way, and being clobbered in the nose for his troubles.
That aggressive approach to containing him only seemed to fire Jones up more though; before long he had dribbled past a few more defenders, played a great one-two into the area and brought out an outrageous Rabona cross which just lacked a finishing touch.
Jones led an early second-half counter, tested the ‘keeper at the end of it with a shot from distance, worked relentlessly off the ball and showed the way in the closing stages to wind down the game with possession.
Excellent performance, even better maturity—just should have topped it off with a goal!
Bravery, belief, ability
It’s outrageous that this group of young players, most with little or no senior experience to their name, played the way they did—let alone won the game.
Front to back they were enormously impressive and you could be forgiven for forgetting there were unusual faces on display at times, such was the repetition of first-team moves on show.
For Alisson‘s high starting point there was Caoimhin Kelleher prepared to race out of goal; for the surging, sprinting, underlapping full-back there was Adam Lewis blazing a trail into the area and firing a low delivery into the six-yard box.
Then there were the in-from-out runs of Harvey Elliott, the cross-field passes of Neco Williams and the covering challenges and recycling passes of Pedro Chirivella, who was utterly outstanding and every bit as important to the win as his younger team-mates.
A word too for the centre-backs: Ki-Jana Hoever was near-faultless and made some vital late interceptions, while Sepp van den Berg had unquestionably his best 90 minutes in red, including his under-23s outings.
Caveat the quality of opponent by all means, but plug any single player from this lineup into Jurgen Klopp‘s and the same runs, the same approach, the same way of playing is going to be replicated.
They are all learning to play the Liverpool way, and this gave them the most memorable experience of their careers so far.
Who will stay involved?
At least one more FA Cup game lies ahead—but if Liverpool do go on and wrap up this Premier League title in record time, there might also be top-flight action for a small selection of youngsters.
It won’t be in big batches and massive rotations in this way this cup game was—even if Klopp opted to change all 11, the likes of Lallana, Adrian, Lovren, Matip, Milner, Origi et al would be next in line—but some may get their chance.
Few would say the opportunity hasn’t been merited.
There are, right now, four standout candidates for further game time between now and the end of the season in a first-team environment.
Jones is one, and is in fact right on the cusp of legitimate and regular action. He will surely see half-a-dozen more appearances come his way at the very least, if he continues to learn, progress and show consistency.
Elliott and Williams are two more, both because there is less of a roadblock—Xherdan Shaqiri‘s fitness pending—in their positions, and because they are young, aggressive, fast and fantastic.
And the fourth should be Chirivella, who probably doesn’t have a long-term future, but that’s more on account of the insane levels Liverpool have reached and the enviable depth in the deep midfield roles, rather than any failing of his own.
He’s a Premier League-standard player and it would be fitting if he got the chance to show that this term, allowing him to secure a decent move befitting his qualities in the summer.
Proper break and proper team
Right now, the seniors who still harbour hopes of perhaps adding the FA Cup trophy to the others in their cabinets should be paying for all the U23s to join them in Dubai or wherever they’ve headed.
It’s (more or less) holiday time for the first team right now, for another few days, and the feel-good factor around Anfield will just keep on rolling through to next week, thanks to Critchley and his Kop kids.
It’ll feel like an eternity now until the Reds play again, but this rest period should be almost as welcome for fans as for the squad; it has been a relentless campaign and that tempo will start up again soon.
Premier League, then Champions League, then also back into the FA Cup—there are plenty of chapters left to write in this already incredible season.
Oh, and Jurgen Klopp will be back in the dugout!