Aston Villa overwhelmed Liverpool's youngest-ever starting line-up - BBC

By Simon Stone
BBC Sport at Villa Park

Jonathan Kodjia's last brace for Aston Villa came in the 2-2 draw against Brentford in the Championship in August 2018

Aston Villa overwhelmed Liverpool's youngest-ever starting line-up to cruise into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

With the Reds' senior players in action at the Club World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday, under-23s boss Neil Critchley led a side containing five debutants and which had an average age of 19 years, six months and three days.

While Villa made 10 changes from their Premier League defeat at Sheffield United, their vastly superior experience ensured they lived up to their favourites tag at Villa Park.

Liverpool began brightly - and indeed enjoyed significant spells of possession throughout the match - but conceded two freak goals in the space of three first-half minutes to allow the hosts to settle.

First, Conor Hourihane's free-kick from the right deceived Caoimhin Kelleher, and the Reds keeper then saw an Ahmed Elmohamady cross deflect off Morgan Boyes and loop over him into the left corner.

Jonathan Kodjia added Villa's third with a cool finish after Jota's through ball, before the Ivorian swept in Elmohamady's cross from the right.

Wesley completed the scoring for the hosts, who reached the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since 2012-13.

Five-times winners Villa head into a two-legged semi-final in January against Leicester City, although manager Dean Smith might view forthcoming league matches against Southampton, Norwich and Watford - the three teams below them in the table - as arguably of greater significance.

A unique game

Significant statistics were plentiful as the teams were confirmed.

At an average of 19.48 years, it was the youngest line-up in Liverpool's history, eclipsing the 21.81 in an FA Cup tie against Plymouth nearly three years ago.

The starting side boasted a paltry 16 previous first-team appearances for Liverpool between them while their shirt numbers added up to 737.

None of the Liverpool players were alive the last time Villa won a trophy, when they beat Leeds to win this competition in 1996.

By the final whistle, there was a more sobering statistic. This was Liverpool's heaviest League Cup defeat, eclipsing a 4-1 loss to West Ham in 1988 and a 6-3 reverse by Arsenal in 2007.

Of course, given the unique circumstances, the result should almost come with an asterisk. Football statistics do not work like that though, so into the record books the result will go.

When Harvey Elliott made his first EFL Cup appearance, he was so young he had to get changed away from his team-mates on child protection grounds as he was still to reach his 16th birthday.

He is still not old enough to drive and can't turn professional until his 17th birthday in April but Elliott is clearly talented and against Villa underlined why Liverpool were so keen to persuade him to move north from Fulham in the summer.

It was Elliott's early shot that forced Orjan Nyland into a one-handed save when the game was still goalless and he provided a terrific pass that allowed Isaac Christie-Davies to go close later in the half.

He played on the right wing but it is his cultured left foot that is his key weapon, making difficult passes look easy and always offering a threat to the opposition - even when they are seasoned professionals - when on the ball.

Watching from Liverpool's team hotel in Doha, Jurgen Klopp is sure to have been impressed, as was Critchley, Elliott's boss in Birmingham.
Job done for Villa

This was a fixture Villa knew was a 'no-win' scenario.

Assuming it turned out as it did, it was always going to be dismissed as exactly the result that was expected. If they had lost, though, ridicule would inevitably have followed.

As it turned out, Smith's side were professional and clinical, ensuring there was no need to call on substitutes Jack Grealish or John McGinn.

It was a good night for Villa's £11m striker Kodjia too, who has been restricted to 41 minutes of action in the Premier League this season.

With first-choice forward Wesley struggling for form - the Brazilian's injury-time effort was his first in 10 games going back to 5 October - Kodjia's two-goal contribution was well timed.

The Ivorian's first goal in particular required a calm finish after he raced clear following a mistake by Boyes.
Man of the match: Jonathan Kodjia (Aston Villa)
Jonathan Kodjia had not scored for Villa since May but converted both of his chances to score
Liverpool stand-in manager Neil Critchley talking to Sky Sports: "I thought we were magnificent. We were fantastic from the start, we had a couple of chances from the first whistle. We were really unfortunate to concede and then find ourselves 2-0 down. It was an incredible night and no-one wanted it to end. The support we had was unbelievable.

"The conduct of the Villa players was first class. For Dean Smith and John Terry to come in to our dressing room after the game and say the things they said... They said 'keep going, good luck' and wished us the best. A moment I will remember and the players will remember for the rest of their lives.

"Some of them showed the potential to one day play for us, or in the Premier League. They will know it was just part of their journey. My overwhelming feeling is one of immense pride."

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith on BBC Radio 5 Live: "It was probably the weirdest major competition quarter-final I've seen or been involved in. They started brightly, they've got some technically gifted young players. We were clinical, professional and showed a good attitude. It was a bit of a no-win for us apart from getting through to a semi-final.

"I must credit the players. Before the game I used the word 'attitude' - it had to be right today. Everyone expected us to win, we expected to win, but you've still got to do the job. Even though we were playing a young Liverpool team, we had James Chester who hadn't played for 11 months, it was Jonathan Kodjia and Orjan Nyland's first game of the season too. I thought Jota was a bit of a Rolls Royce for us tonight.

"Wesley needed that goal. He's got a little bit of unfair stick. He's a young player, he's got great honesty and attitude. It was a good finish. It will do him the world of good.

"I was brought up coaching U18s and U23s, Liverpool played really well tonight but they'll be disappointed with the result. They've got some starlets that will be performing at Premier League level in the next three or four years."
Best of the stats

Aston Villa have reached the semi-finals of the League Cup for the first time since the 2012/13 campaign, while Liverpool have been eliminated at the quarter-final stage of the competition for the first time since 2007/08.
Aston Villa's 5-0 victory was just their second win in their last 21 home matches against Liverpool in all competitions (D5 L14), ending a run of six consecutive defeats against the Reds on home turf.
Liverpool's defeat was their first in 20 games across all competitions (W16 D3), with Aston Villa becoming the first side to beat them since Napoli in the Champions League back in September.
Liverpool suffered their biggest margin of defeat in any competition since September 2017, when they lost 5-0 against Manchester City in the Premier League.
Liverpool conceded four first-half goals for the first time in any competition since May 2015, against Stoke in the Premier League.
The average age of Liverpool's starting side against Aston Villa was 19 years & 182 days, the youngest starting line-up the Reds have ever fielded for a competitive fixture.
Only Burton's Liam Boyce (five) has scored more League Cup goals this season than Aston Villa's Conor Hourihane (four).

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