Liverpool secured their place in the next stage of the FA Cup, but it was not a pretty affair as Aston Villa youngsters proved a tough hurdle to overcome in the 4-1 win.
Due to a coronavirus outbreak in the Aston Villa first-team, the Reds were left to face a side with an average age of 18 years and 294 days for a place in the fourth round of the competition.
Many felt it would be a straightforward matchup for the champions, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side continued to make life hard for themselves despite a bright start with Sadio Mane‘s goal.
Highly-rated Louie Barry would level the scores to add insult to injury in a dour opening 45 minutes, with class and superior fitness reigning supreme in the end as a five-minute spell returned three goals.
It highlighted once more the need for improvement ahead of the clash against Man United, and now another game and another shot to move closer to silverware awaits later this month.
Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) and Ben Twelves (@bm12s) are joined by Owen Collins (@OGBCollins) to discuss the highs and the lows from Liverpool’s victory and the implications of the fourth round of the FA Cup.
BEN: After seeing the lineup all I really cared about was that we made it through the game without picking up any injuries, given what’s up next. It seems we managed that and it was the only real positive of the night for me.
One thing I did enjoy though was how our lads were with the Villa youngsters at full-time – all very gracious, respectful and appreciative of how well they played, with several Reds seeking out Louie Barry to congratulate him on his dream goal.
Imagine world-class Thiago praising your performance – what a moment! That engagement will provide real inspiration for those young lads and good luck to them.
OWEN: Although we made hard work of it, a win is a win, but even so there aren’t many individual performances to highlight.
The obvious plus is another 45 minutes for Thiago, who just oozes class and imagination, even against a team of teenagers.
Without him, we’re at an increased risk of looking a bit predictable, but when he’s playing it’s a wonderful guessing game as to what he’s going to do next. An intricate pass, a mazy dribble, a long-range shot to rifle the crossbar, he’s got the complete arsenal in his locker and he’s already proving his value to the squad.
Shaqiri also needs some praise, not only for two assists in three minutes but for playing the role of impact sub every bit as well as Thiago. Like the Spaniard, Shaq brings something different to the team, and if he can stay fit until May, and if Klopp uses him properly, I’ll feel a lot more confident about our chances this season.
JOANNA: Hard not to agree with Owen there regarding Thiago, any time you see him on the ball you are reminded of exactly how incredible of a coup it was to land him.
I was happy to hand the reins completely over to him as his front-foot approach was a breath of fresh air after a rather lacklustre first half.
Like both lads alluded to, there were not that many positives to take from the game but Villa certainly deserve credit for their approach and staying in the game for as long as possible.
A win is a win and here’s hoping more exciting days lie ahead, starting with United!
BEN: That first hour was an embarrassing mess, and our lack of invention in that time was almost unbelievable.
Even against kids, we seemed to have no ideas on how to create clear openings. The amount of hopeless, aimless crosses we chucked in was painful on a night we had the chance to try something different.
Alongside that I thought the general attitude in that period was dire – too many players going through the motions and feeling sorry themselves, waiting for something to happen rather than making it happen. That’s not us.
OWEN: You know when even James Milner is breaking out the stepovers that, as a team, we’re possibly getting a bit complacent. Unsurprisingly, such tricks and flicks dried up as the game wore on.
I adore Salah, but we could’ve been four up at halftime if he’d start passing more. When he’s firing on all cylinders, it obviously doesn’t matter so much, but when he’s not it’s infuriating.
And seeing so many better options waiting for a pass while Mo blasts it into a teenager’s shins really did grate by the fifth or sixth time.
Also, sad to say, Rhys Williams, who I know is only young but who was basically a seasoned pro in comparison to the Villa team. This isn’t the first time this season his lack of pace has cost us, and he was way too easily outmuscled by Barry for the equaliser.
If we really aren’t buying a new centre-back this month, Rhys is going to have to hit the gym, and the treadmill, big time.
JOANNA: Can see what Owen means in regards to Rhys, but like Nat Phillips, they are two players not exactly designed for Liverpool’s style and therefore get found out.
Pace is not an attribute of theirs and while they have stepped up amicably, it was another showing which makes the decision not to pursue a centre-back this month bewildering.
At times, it looked as though we were the team put together at a seconds notice such was the pedestrian nature of the performance.
I know they were kids and that can change the mentality, both subconsciously and consciously, but we needed to use the game to start putting the wheels back in motion after a month to forget.
And like Ben said, don’t get me started on those aimless crosses – I might not have any hair left if I start to get into it!
And is the fourth round of the FA Cup a help or hindrance?
BEN: I think reaching the fourth round and having another game is a good thing.
It’s another step closer to winning the competition, which, though obviously not a priority, would certainly be nice!
But most importantly it’s another game that will prove useful in getting fringe players competitive minutes and match fitness so they’re ready for when needed, which they inevitably will be at some stage.
It’s difficult for those who have been out injured or don’t play much to just turn it on when thrown in – see Taki’s performance, while Oxlade-Chamberlain always needs a good few outings to get up and running – so an additional cup tie could help make this step a little smoother, thus strengthening the options available going forward.
OWEN: Look, we’re Liverpool and we should never be anything but pleased about progressing in any competition.
When you consider that some of last night’s opposition were still learning to walk last time we won the FA Cup, it’s about time we gave it another serious crack.
Plus, I think our relatively kind festive schedule has proved that decent gaps between games somehow don’t benefit us at all – the longer the break, the worse the performance when we return, it seems.
A lot will depend on how much more ridiculous our injury list gets but, for now, I’m pleased we’re in the pot for the fourth-round draw. If the treatment table fills up again, I might change my mind, but hey, we can always just play the Under 23s, right…?
JOANNA: Wholeheartedly agree with Owen’s assessment that we stumble with extended breaks between games, almost as if we need the relentless schedule to inspire and grind out wins.
The game is set to be played between the league meetings against Burnley and Tottenham later this month, creating a more jam-packed schedule in January.
And while the fear of further injuries is always on my mind, I have to make it three from three in regards to the tie being a benefit to the Reds – but the opposition we are drawn against could go some way in changing my view.
We don’t have much luck in regards to avoiding Premier League teams in domestic cups and this is one time I hope we find some of it as a place in the quarter-finals would be most welcome thanks to a rotated side on the field.