Thiago & Shaqiri offer missing spark but football at breaking point – Media on Aston Villa 1-4 Liverpool

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The media saw promise in Thiago and Xherdan Shaqiri‘s impacts in Liverpool’s 4-1 FA Cup win over youthful Aston Villa but feel football is now at breaking point.

The Reds’ first-team quality eventually carried through to see off a spirited effort from a young Villa side and book a place in round four.

Three goals in five second-half minutes from Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah took the game away from Villa’s youth, who levelled at 1-1 with a dream strike from Louie Barry.

Liverpool could only beat what was in front of them and they did that, so it’s a case of taking the win and moving on swiftly to more important matters coming up.

Here’s all the key analysis from the media on a strange cup success at Villa Park.

 

Reporters applauded the young Villa side but felt the night showed football has reached ‘breaking point’…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp with Aston Villa's goal-scorer Louie Barry after the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Mail’s Ian Ladyman reflected on the tie as “one of the strangest nights in FA Cup history”:

On one of the strangest nights in FA Cup history, this was a superb and heartening effort by this team of young Villains.

ESPN’s Mark Ogden applauded the young Villa side for putting up such a brave fight and thinks it will bring some feel-good factor to the game in increasingly difficult times:

In such difficult times, football and the FA Cup are simply battling to get through as best they can, with little control over the situation they are in.

Despite losing, Aston Villa gave the game a much-needed boost with their performance. In the weeks ahead, football will need more uplifting moments and spirited performances.

But Neil Jones, writing for Goal, was somewhat less romantic as he slammed the fact that the game was even played while criticising football’s “the show must go on” attitude:

This, quite frankly, was a game that should never have been played. A game between the Premier League leaders, the reigning champions, and a group of teenagers, pressed into action on primetime TV just so, despite everything, the show could somehow go on.

[…]

The Reds’ 4-1 victory may have ended a three-match winless run, but if this is ‘elite’ football in 2021, then questions must be asked.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was Ladyman, who creditted Villa for doing their utmost to get the game on and put on a special opportunity for their upcoming stars:

But this was Villa’s night in a way. The midlands club could have attempted to get this game postponed after double digit Covid positives laid low Dean Smith’s first team pool.

But instead Villa found a way to give some of their academy players a night to remember.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (R) and Aston Villa's Arjan Raikhy during the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Guardian’s Paul Doyle provided a sad but realistic assessment that this didn’t even feel like a proper sporting occasion, and more an “administrative duty”:

This was a surreal occasion that owed more to the strangeness of our times than to any magic of the Cup.

[…]

For Villa, then, this was primarily an administrative duty rather than a sporting contest, the most pressing concern being to fulfil a fixture.

With the final word, Jones called for football to now stop, with health and well-being of players and the integrity of the competition both being dangerously compromised:

On they go, then, but what damage is being done to the sport itself right now, as it ploughs on – or attempts to – despite everything happening in the world right now?

[…]

English football’s determination to crack on as if everything is fine, playing both domestic cup competitions as normal, cramming in league fixtures and asking clubs and players to deal with the fallout, simply cannot go on.

 

The media acknowledged it was ‘job done’ for Liverpool but still expected to see far more from the Reds…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the first goal with team-mates during the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First of all, Muhammad Butt, writing for Squawka, defended Klopp’s lineup, insisting it was the right thing to do get back to winning ways and keep match fitness levels high ahead of United’s Anfield arrival:

Had he rested all his starters then they would have gone two weeks without a game. Now that might sound delightful for a manager who is always complaining about fixture congestion, but recall that Liverpool often struggle when playing their first game after a long break.

Moreover their last game was a defeat against Southampton, and letting that linger in the minds of the first-teamers in the build-up to the United would be a major misstep.

Melissa Reddy, of the Independent, assessed the fact that Villa’s youth team even scored made for a bad night for Klopp’s side:

But, in the circumstances, nothing can erode the shock of Villa’s youngsters – thrown together at the last minute with no preparation – being level with Liverpool at the interval.

The Mirror’s Freddie Keighley criticised Liverpool’s dire first-half, particularly how poor the Reds were once again in the final third against a low block:

Although Sadio Mane got the visitors off to the perfect start with his fourth-minute header, Liverpool failed to capitalise and quickly found themselves struggling to breakdown a well-structured low block.

[…]

Many expected they would dust off the cobwebs against the youngest team they had ever faced, but the game just further exhibited how toothless they are in front of goal at present. Decision making was poor, finishing was not clinical enough and intensity was lacking.

The Mirror’s Ben Husband singled out Takumi Minamino as particularly disappointing on the night:

However, after being handed a glorious opportunity against Villa’s youngsters, Minamino fluffed his lines.

[…]

After scoring just once in their last three league games, Minamino had a golden chance to show Klopp he had made an error – and to force his way into his manager’s thoughts. […] Managers that reach the heights that Klopp has, rarely admit they have made mistake, but Minamino’s performance may show he was right to limit his minutes anyway.

Keighley explained that the fact Klopp made a change so quickly was a “damning indictment” of how poor his side were in the first 45:

It’s a fairly damning indictment that Jurgen Klopp was forced to take off his captain for the more expansive Thiago at half-time, given the youthfulness of Liverpool’s opposition.

 

Journalists saw signs that Thiago and Shaqiri can provide the solution to Liverpool’s creativity issues…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 4, 2020: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the FA Cup 4th Round Replay match between Liverpool FC and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Liverpool Echo’s Ian Doyle assessed Thiago‘s introduction as game-changing , noting how the Spaniard’s passing quality provided a different level of vision and creativity:

First, the half-time arrival of Thiago Alcantara opened up the picture to a Reds team who had been stuck with tunnel vision.

The Spaniard quickly went through his expansive repertoire of passes to open up the Villa backline, instantly bringing some much-needed creativity to a side desperately searching for it of late.

For the same publication, Paul Gorst praised Shaqiri’s impact and feels the Swiss and Thiago can offer a new dimension in attack when the Reds face ultra-defensive opponents:

It was a match against probably the most inexperienced side either of them will have played against professionally, but Klopp’s ability to furnish the team with such class in the shape of both Thiago and Shaqiri hints at what can be possible this term.

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