Liverpool eventually eased past Shrewsbury thanks to a mixture of youth and experience, as Jurgen Klopp got the balance just right.
Liverpool 4-1 Shrewsbury
FA Cup Third Round, Anfield
January 9, 2022
Goals: Gordon 34′, Fabinho pen 44′, 90+2′, Firmino 78′; Udoh 26′
Front three experiment
The focus will be on Liverpool’s front three more so than usual during the next few months.
With Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at the Africa Cup of Nations, it’s no longer a case of Klopp being able to rely on the usual trio of Salah, Mane and Diogo Jota up top.
For this cup game, the manager went with the relatively inexperienced lineup of Kaide Gordon, Max Woltman and Curtis Jones.
The latter would be the most likely to be given a spot in the lineup in upcoming Premier League games, along with the likes of Jota and Roberto Firmino.
Minamino replaced Woltman at half-time and will be another option, but in the end the most clinical of the players used against Shrewsbury was Gordon.
The ‘first choice’ front three remains to be seen, though it should be seen in the Premier League games against Brentford and Crystal Palace, if not in the two-legged League Cup semi-final with Arsenal.
Gordon may well have worked his way into the reckoning.
Kaide in front of the Kop
Liverpool’s opening goal involved three of the academy players chosen in this young side.
Elijah Dixon-Bonner turned the ball out to Conor Bradley who crossed for Gordon.
The 17-year-old’s finished was as technically good as it was composed, as he worked the ball onto his left foot and slotted home.
Gordon looked dangerous every time he cut in from the right onto his left foot, and technically he already looks at home at this level.
Klopp’s use of Harvey Elliott at the start of this season showed he is not afraid of bringing young players through if they are good enough, and Gordon could well get more game time next season if not this.
Experienced players step up
Within such an inexperienced lineup, leaders – or more accurately, organisers – are much more important than usual.
In the usual senior side, most players know their roles and responsibilities, but such a mixture of youth and experience needs the more regular first-team players to step up.
Virgil van Dijk is a natural in this role and takes responsibility regardless of whether he is wearing the captain’s armband, as he was this time around.
Andy Robertson is also a captain at international level and leads by example as well as being a good motivator.
Ibrahima Konate was a big presence at the back, offering some reassurance alongside the less imposing Typer Morton and Bradley, while Fabinho took responsibility from the penalty spot, as he was used to doing during his Monaco days.
In the end, it was a useful balance of youth and experience, with just enough regular first-teamers to knit the side together to assure progression to the next round.
Klopp turns to Kelleher again
There were rumours prior to this game that Loris Karius may be given a start between the sticks, but the Liverpool manager once again turned to his new trusted No. 2 in the position.
There is now little doubt that Caoimhin Kelleher is good enough to be the long-term backup to Alisson, though he might end up being too good.
Good reserve goalkeepers can be difficult to find, as good players usually want regular games and ones willing to act as backup are few and far between.
One way to secure quality support in this role is to develop players in the academy, which is what Liverpool have done with Kelleher.
He has replaced the likes of Adrian and Karius as the Alisson’s understudy, which in turn led to caps for the Republic of Ireland in 2021.
One problem might be that games like this prove Kelleher is good enough to be a starter for a top team, but for now, Liverpool have a quality, like-for-like option in the position.
End 10 years since domestic cup?
Liverpool haven’t won the FA Cup since 2006, and the last time they won a domestic cup competition was the League Cup back in 2012.
Ten years is the longest the club has gone without winning one of the domestic cups since they won their first FA Cup in 1965.
So far this season the Reds remain in every competition they have entered, and with Man City looking unlikely to relinquish their spot at the top of the Premier League table, a couple of cups wouldn’t go amiss.
Next up is the League Cup semi-final against Arsenal, in which you’d fancy Liverpool across two legs despite their AFCON absences.