Nothing seems to be able to halt the progress of Liverpool’s unbelievable season, as the young Reds marched on to the 5th round of the FA Cup after clinching a 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp and the senior team were obviously not present, but the youthful side led by Neil Critchley gave a superb account of themselves. A few points we pondered after the game...
What exactly is the FA thinking?
Klopp’s adamant stand on the congestion fixture has been well-documented, with the recent FA Cup replay the latest of the ongoing saga. Pundits and media have been debating endlessly on this (really boring) topic, with most claiming that the German manager is disrespecting the oldest cup competition – perhaps trying to find bones to pick at an extraordinary season.
The FA has introduced the new mid-season break after countless arguments regarding England’s lack of a winter break, with the hopes of easing up the highly congested fixture schedule and to provide a much-welcome break for players and staff alike. To then schedule a FA Cup replay during this given period seems bizarre at best, and especially with the Champions League returning in February, why would anyone expect Klopp to take a risk?
We get it, the FA Cup is an important trophy and a huge part of England’s football tradition, but should this then not be on the guys at the FA to have the fixtures better planned out in the first place? Besides, the youth structure is very much an imperative part of the club and overall squad, with Critchley’s U-23 side boasting some real talents – with a Premier League team on the blue side of Merseyside being able to attest. Perhaps it is time the footballing world has its views altered as the game evolves: fielding an inexperienced side might be instead a tremendous chance to blood the youngsters at a higher level, especially when opportunities are increasingly harder to come by, rather than a sign of disrespect.
Ok, so perhaps the above are still not enough to convince you that the guys at the FA have been smoking, but in the ultimate hissy fit, they have decided to not show the replay anywhere in the world on television, just because they are under no obligation to – denying not only Liverpool, but also the League One outfit the chance to cash in on some crucial broadcasting dollars.
Talk about double standards.
The kids are (more than) alright
Ok, so the incompetency of the FA might have taken some gloss off the victory, but there was nothing incompetent about the boys’ performances tonight. The U-23 side stood tall against an experienced Shrewsbury team, who stanchly came back from a two goals deficit in the first game. Critchley’s side were fearless, hungry and clearly talented – showing the team spirit and desire that is such an essential element in the senior team. Some of the players might not go on and have particularly successful careers at Liverpool, in fact some might even never feature for the Reds again, but it is an outstanding victory that not only sets them up for the next round against Chelsea, but a victory that will definitely be an important chapter in these kids’ careers, which have already seen some incredible ones written this season.
Team spirit – a Jurgen Klopp ethos
The senior team has been soaring this season, and is well on course to go on and eclipse their most successful season ever.
Klopp arrived at Melwood in 2015 and has massively transformed the club in ways on and off the pitch, leaving an impact on everyone – from the hot dog seller outside Anfield to the Egyptian King. The team spirit he painstakingly fostered – from offloading “troublesome” players like Mamadou Sakho to the iconic scene after the famous Barcelona victory where the players stood in a line and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone with the Kop – is clearly an important philosophy that the German takes pride in.
The German’s effort was evident once again during the replay, as vice-captain James Milner was present at Anfield to play his role in the fourth round success. The 34-year-old is one of the most experienced players in the league and his presence in itself will surely provide the young Reds some assurance. Critchley said during the post-match interview that the Englishman had actually trained with them the day before, and had asked if he could be part of the dressing room. With the senior team allowed time off and most of them understandably on their well-deserved “holidays”, his actions are a true testament to his longevity and professionalism of his craft.
“He trained with us yesterday and he asked whether he could come along. It was like ‘yeah I think the answer is yes to that one.”
“To have someone like him, obviously he has achieved so much in the game but that’s because of who he is, and he was giving words of advice to his players. He was getting right behind the players, he was vocal in the dressing room, he was animated behind me, I could hear him.”
“And he was genuinely delighted with how the boys performed, and I can’t thank him enough for being here tonight.” Critchley explained after the game.
Another classic masterstroke by the evergreen Milner.
And who stood out?
Pedro Chirivella was arguably the man-of-the-match as the Spanish put in yet another mature performance to lead the youngest-ever starting XI, sitting in front of the back four and expertly transiting defence into attack. Chirivella must surely be playing for Liverpool at the most unfortunate time; such is the quality of the players in his position in the senior squad that makes it almost impossible to get in sight of Klopp’s first team radar.
The captain for the night, Curtis Jones carried on his fine form and proved again why he has every right to be knocking on Klopp’s front door. The talented 19-year-old is currently oozing with confidence, dictating large parts of the game with his technique and passing – and topped off another solid performance with a cheeky rabona, just because.
Another youngster Neco William is seeing his stock rise steadily as he inches closer to his 19th birthday, and it is not hard to see why. The Welsh right-back plays with a youthful fervour and zeal, combined with a mature awareness of the game that belies the years of the teenager. A cracker of a through-ball led to the breakthrough of the game, and with Trent Alexander-Arnold a role model he can look up to, it is safe to say the right-back position will remain the least of Klopp’s concern in the foreseeable future.
16-year-old Harvey Elliott had another game that will just enhance his already burgeoning reputation, causing Shrewsbury massive problems especially in the 2nd half with his direct running and skills. He looks like he is enjoying every single minute each time he is on the pitch, and the sky is currently the limit for the teenager with the trendiest trim – something Harry Kewell is unfortunately not the biggest fan of.
So forget the FA and let us focus on the incredible efforts of the boys for a second, as the feel-good factor around Liverpool looks set to extend its stay.