Jurgen Klopp decision vindicated as Harvey Elliott and co underline their vast potential
Liverpool's youngsters impressed in victory over MK Dons in the third round of the Carabao Cup
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent
22:49, 25 SEP 2019
Liverpool's failing love affair with the League Cup has been rekindled.
A whole host of Academy graduates and foreign imports combined with a splash of experience to ensure the Reds reached the fourth round for the first time in three years at Stadium MK.
With the Super Cup already safely in trophy cabinet and the FIFA Club World Cup on the horizon in December, the Carabao Cup undoubtedly represents the least important pot Liverpool are aiming to win this term.
Try telling that to the likes of Harvey Elliott, Ki-Jana Hoever and Curtis Jones though, who all acquitted themselves brilliantly on a big night for a string of Jurgen Klopp's fledglings.
Liverpool 's youngsters, in this competition, are essentially playing for more senior time. Klopp is likely to continue to rest his stars for games in this tournament, so their participation hinges on their performances. They didn't disappoint in front of a large crowd in the heart of Milton Keynes.
Safely through and in the hat for the next round , Liverpool's teenage talents will fear no one after they turned in an exciting display that belied their tender years against an experienced League One outfit.
Ahead of the game, MK Dons owner Pete Winkelman made a point of welcoming the European champions to Milton Keynes, clearly proud to be hosting a club with the storied history of their visitors. Manager Paul Tisdale also admitted he was nervous about pitting his wits against the Champions League winners prior to kick-off.
Liverpool are big business once more and the MK Dons hierarchy did little to shy away from their respect in the build up, while an attendance approaching something near the 30,000 capacity laid bare how the Reds are a headline attraction everywhere they go. It was, in fact, at 28,521, a record attendance for an MK Dons game.
However, Klopp was never likely to name his big guns for this one and it so transpired as the Reds manager made as many as 11 changes to his lineup that included senior debuts for the likes of Rhian Brewster, Elliott, Ki-Jana Hoever and goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
With this fixture slapped right in the middle of a three-week period that sees Liverpool play seven times, Klopp wisely decided to rotated his charges and afford opportunity to a host of youngsters who have very serious designs on a successful, long-term career at Anfield.
As many as 6600 Liverpool supporters made the trek to Milton Keynes for the first-ever clash between these two teams and they were treated to several small slices of history, with as many as three teenage debutants realising dreams they will have held on to for years,
This, too, was a big night for Naby Keita, whose last competitive appearance for the Reds came in the Camp Nou in a Champions League semi-final nearly six months ago. Markedly different surroundings for the £52m man this time around, but after a succession of injury issues since the beginning of May, he would have keen itching to get back into the fold having returned to training last week.
So while a trip to Stadium MK may not have appeared to be a particularly noteworthy event in the career of the former RB Leipzig star, this here was a massive step on the ladder towards his re-ascent into the Liverpool first team. Keita's ability to break lines from midfield with his passing and, in particular, his dribbling will be invaluable to the Reds. Getting him fit and keeping him healthy is key for the European champions.
It took the gifted Guinean some time to get into his stride here, over-hitting a simple pass down the line to Milner early on before firing into the crowd with his weaker foot from the edge of the box. He was withdrawn shortly after the hour mark after struggling to make to a telling impact. He will enjoy better days for sure, but this was a decent start.
Elliott could have become the youngest goalscorer in Liverpool history when James Milner laid it on a plate for him in the 12th minute but with the goal at his mercy, the teenager could only clip it against the bar under no pressure.
It was notable, however, how the 16-year-old refused to let his head drop after that glaring miss. The No.67 was a source of creativity on the right flank and almost got Milner in with a wonderful cross soon after. The youngest footballer to ever play Premier League football is still nearly two years away from being able to vote, but early signs are the Reds have a gem in their ranks with him, even if plenty of polishing is to be done first.
Liverpool's lead arrived in fortuitous circumstances when Milner's speculative effort from a wide area was spilled into the net from Stuart Moore. It was one the MK Dons shot-stopper won't ever want to see again but the Reds were good value for a lead taken close to the break.
The Reds continued to push for a second after the break and almost had it when the fleet-footed Elliott found some room inside the penalty area. However, his strike, with his weak right foot, could only ruffle the side netting. Hoever, who was making his first start as a Liverpool player, did make it 2-0 when he rose highest to meet Milner's cross and plant a header past Moore.
The versatile Dutchman's preferred position is centre-half but with so much competition at the heart of the most miserly defence in the Premier League last season, Hoever is having to settle for a right-back berth when the chance presents. Getting on the end of his fellow full-back's cross to open his Liverpool account was a perfect way to make his mark.
Fields of Anfield Road immediately rang around the away as the travelling Liverpool supporters enjoyed their moment. It was then Kelleher's turn in the spotlight as his superb spring stopped Jordan Bowery's point-blank header to keep it at 2-0.
Great defensive work from Dejan Lovren and Milner kept out the Dons who pushed to reduced the deficit before the average age plummeted further with the introduction of Herbie Kane for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For a team bursting with teenage talent, Liverpool's maturity here was hugely impressive. The Reds rarely looked flustered or troubled, even when Tisdale's men attempt to batter the door down inside the final 15 minutes.
They will surely be handed another opportunity to impress in the next round. Judging by this evidence, it is one they will likely take.
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