Three goals in five minutes spared Liverpool’s blushes and saw off Aston Villa’s youth team in the FA Cup third round.
Aston Villa 1-4 Liverpool
FA Cup Third Round, Villa Park
January 8, 2021
Goals: Mane 4′ & 63′, Wijnaldum 60′, Salah 65′; Barry 41′
Caoimhin Kelleher (out of 10) – 6
Kelleher came in for Alisson, looking to continue the good form he produced earlier this season.
Unsurprisingly, the Irishman was largely a spectator for much of the evening and could do nothing about keeping out Louis Barry’s equaliser.
Neco Williams – 6
Trent Alexander-Arnold was handed a much-needed rest, with Williams replacing him.
The Welshman produced some powerful runs down the right-hand side, but too often, nothing came from them in terms of end product.
He will be disappointed in that respect but was solid overall.
Rhys Williams – 5
The young Englishman came into the defence having been preferred to Nat Phillips.
It was not a night that will enhance his hopes of featuring between now and May, however, as he was horribly caught out of position for Barry’s goal, displaying a lack of pace.
Neat and tidy on the ball though.
Fabinho – 6
Fabinho‘s inclusion felt the biggest risk of all at Villa Park, considering how vital it is that he avoids injury this season.
The Brazilian came through the game unscathed, but in truth, it is tough to give him too much credit, considering how little defensive work he had to do.
Far harder challenges lie ahead.
James Milner – 6
Back in the auxiliary left-back position he clearly doesn’t like much, Milner came up against some players who were young enough to be his son!
The 35-year-old didn’t always look comfortable in the role, but he always attempted to make things happen in the final third, sliding some clever passes into dangerous areas.
Crossing poor, though.
Jordan Henderon – 4
Henderson was one of many surprise starters, looking to improve upon on a few sloppy recent performances.
The skipper was poor in the first half, however, forcing things far too often and either losing possession or over-hitting crosses.
Replaced by Thiago after the break after looking like a player out of form.
Gini Wijnaldum – 6
There’s rarely any rest for Wijnaldum and it was a surprise he was included here.
The Dutchman was the most noticeable of Liverpool’s midfielders, given more attacking freedom than usual, but it certainly wasn’t a vintage showing.
He missed a great chance to make it 2-0 early on – a sitter, in fact – but fired home the Reds’ second goal, finishing in crisp fashion.
Curtis Jones – 5
Jones’ stock has unfairly fallen slightly after a mini-dip in form and this was another sloppy showing.
The 19-year-old whipped in the cross that Sadio Mane opened the scoring from, but he was too fancy on one occasion, losing the ball, and was largely ineffective.
Still a footballer very much learning his trade.
Mohamed Salah – 6
Salah will have been licking his lips given Villa’s starting lineup, but he only got the one goal.
Liverpool’s No.11 looked more interested in scoring goals than actually being a team player in the opening 45 minutes, failing to square one obvious pass in the first half.
Improved greatly in his application after the interval, though, and got his customary goal with a well-taken effort.
Takumi Minamino – 5
Used on the left-hand side, the Japanese was quiet for large periods, struggling to get into the game.
Assisted Wijnaldum’s goal with a nicely-weighted pass but often failed to find his target.
Sadio Mane – 7
Mane started down the middle of Liverpool’s attack, putting his side 1-0 up with a solid header early on – his first-ever FA Cup goal for the Merseysiders.
He was never at his best, like Salah, but he kept battling as the minutes ticked by and sent a looper header into the net to make it 3-1.
Such a fighter.
Thiago (on for Henderson, 46′) – 8 (Man of the Match)
Yes, it was only a team of youngsters he was facing, but Thiago looked outrageously good when he came on.
He sped up the tempo of Liverpool’s play, produced a beautiful pass in the lead-up to Salah’s goal and hit the bar with a great strike.
He is some footballer.
Xherdan Shaqiri (on for Jones, 61′) – 7
Two assists in three minutes – not a bad introduction! If he could stay fit he’d be a great squad option.
Roberto Firmino (on for Minamino, 61′) – 6
Nothing much, few shots that didn’t come off.
Divock Origi (on for Salah, 74′) – 6
Looked to make things happen, but a relatively forgettable cameo.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (on for Mane, 74′) – 6
Same as Origi.
Subs not used: Alisson, Phillips, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold
Jurgen Klopp – 6
Whatever happened at Villa Park, Klopp was never onto a winner.
It has been a sticky few weeks for the Liverpool manager and his starting lineup came as a big surprise, considering key players could have been rested.
Hindsight may prove that this was a helpful runout for a number of star men, however, and Klopp got a far better performance out of his team in the second half.
It’s Man United up next, which will be a far greater gauge of where this Liverpool side are at.