Young Reds can be proud but farcical Carabao Cup tie devalues competition
Liverpool U23s lost 5-0 to Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup while the senior squad watched from Qatar
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent
22:34, 17 DEC 2019
The official record books will chalk this up as a Liverpool defeat. Aston Villa will head into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup and the Reds' participation in a competition they have won more than any other team will go no further.
There will be no march to the last four and no further attempt to win this tournament for a ninth time. Liverpool will be made to come again next season, instead. They will be onlookers when the final is played at Wembley on February 24.
This, however, was a defeat in name only for Neil Critchley and his young players, many of whom only enhanced their burgeoning reputations at this famous old stadium in the Midlands.
There will be no recriminations or inquests after this cup exit. It will go down as Liverpool's second defeat of the campaign and their first domestically since an FA Cup exit at Wolves in January, but few from the inside at Anfield will be viewing it as such tomorrow morning.
A 5-0 pasting might make fans wince upon first glance, but that tells little of the story here as an entire squad of Liverpool youngsters took a big step forward in their personal plans to have a long-term career in top-flight football.
It was, in fact, the youngest ever starting XI fielded by a senior Liverpool side in their 127-year history. Men against boys, quite literally.
A lineup aged just 19 years and 186 days made its way to Villa Park with Jurgen Klopp and his senior squad some 4,000 miles away cheering on from their Qatar hotel ahead of Wednesday's Club World Cup semi-final with Monterrey of Mexico.
The oldest of the young guns was Pedro Chirivella, the undisputed veteran at 22. He was just one of two players to have featured in the Premier League alongside Harvey Elliott, who just happens to be the youngest person to ever play in that particular competition.
It's been a bizarre season for 22-year-old Chirivella. Making his first Liverpool appearance for three years in the third round at MK Dons, the Spaniard was inadvertently responsible for the Reds being subjected to being kicked out of the competition due to his ineligibilty in Milton Keynes.
He then played a part in the breathless 5-5 draw with Arsenal in the previous round before becoming Liverpool's third youngest captain at just 22 years and 207 days. This, in all likelihood will be his last game as Liverpool player.
Six debutants were named in total, with a combined 19 Liverpool appearances shared throughout the entire squad. Up against an experienced Villa side boasting first-teamers such as Mahmoud Trezeguet, Douglas Luiz and Jota, few gave Critchley's side hope.
"One game like this is worth a million training sessions," said Critchley before the game. Undoubtedly the biggest game in every Liverpool player's fledgeling career to date, this was what they have worked towards and dreamed about since their years as an infant. A better result will have course been wished for, but the learning curve is a steep one and much will have been gleaned from it when they return to the Kirkby Academy this week.
The junior Reds started brightly and almost took the lead through Elliott when his firmly struck shot was palmed behind by Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland. The shot-stopper was then forced into an even smarter save to thwart Herbie Kane moments later before Elliott thrashed the side netting.
Against the run of play, however, Villa took the lead in fortuitous circumstances. Conor Hourihane's attempt as a low cross from a free-kick left Caoimhin Kelleher unsighted by the runners before the ball squirmed underneath the Irish U21 international.
Replays subsequently showed Jonathan Kodjia had got the faintest of touches to divert into the net. Villa's second required even more good luck as Ahmed Elmohamady's cross took a deflection off Morgan Boyes before looping over Kelleher.
A third arrived from Kodjia after Jota had sent him scampering clear of the Liverpool defence before the striker put the finishing touch on his third and Villa's fourth at the end of the first half after a low ball from Elmohamady.
After the break Liverpool almost forced a goal when Kane got on the end of a cross from Boyes. However, the former Doncaster loanee was denied once more by a great save from stand-in stopper Nyland.
Villa Substitute Wesley made it 5-0 in stoppage time and seemed more than mildly embarrassed to celebrate.
It was a tough night for an embryonic Reds side who had competed and battled gamely throughout. It is at either end of the pitch where games are decided however and a failure to get to grips with Villa's attack and an inability to create anything clear cut of their own put paid to any hopes of a semi-final appearance.
The critiques, however, can be shelved. The reasoned and rational will see this for what it was; a vital night in the early careers of young boys representing one of world football's biggest football clubs.
Once more, Harvey Elliott and Ki-Jana Hoever impressed for the visitors while the likes of Herbie Kane, Tony Gallacher and Isaac Christie-Davies refused to lose heart on a chastening night of senior football. To a man, they can hold their heads high. Their time will come again.
Despite the margin of defeat, there was nothing to be ashamed of here. The only embarrassment was the impossible fixture situation Liverpool were faced with, having to play in Doha less than 24 hours after kick-off in the Midlands.
It was farcical that Liverpool, as a club, had to take this decision at a time when they are representing English football with their aim to become world champions in Doha. The Reds' hands were tied firmly behind them.
The sight of diminutive teenager Jack Bearne jumping with giant 24-year-old centre-back Kortney Hause in the closing stages encapsulated how ludicrous the situation had got.
Perhaps the powers that be will be jolted into putting better provisions in place in the future if this, admittedly unusual, situation rears its head in English football once more.
Little sleep will be lost from a Liverpool perspective. There is, quite plainly, bigger fish to fry. It is now over to the seniors in Qatar to make sure there is no hangover.
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