The youngsters and stalwarts of Aston Villa humbled and frightened Jürgen Klopp’s Premier League-winning all-stars for 45 minutes in Liverpool’s opening game of their FA Cup campaign, as the Reds came out as the winners in the end and progress to the next round. As aforementioned, however, this victory was far from routine and the inquests regarding a slump in performances for the Merseyside club will continue to rumble on.
Ahead of the game, it was announced that Aston Villa’s training ground, Bodymoor Heath, was closed due to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As a result of this, it was required that all first-team personnel would be required to self-isolate, and so participation in this 3rd round clash would be off-limits.
A rematch of the bodies and minds of the players that were involved in that fateful game in October of last year, in which Villa ran out 7-2 winners on the day in a humiliating affair for the Reds, would have to wait for obvious health and safety reasons.
As for the personnel available for the game, it was down to the kids to prove they were alright on the night – many of whom arrived at Villa Park under supervision from their parents who were allowed special exemptions from the rulings regarding COVID-19 safeguards for elite sports teams in England.
One must admit that as soon as the first real chance of the game in the 4th minute from Sadio Mané was converted as a cross from Curtis Jones was flung into the box and nodded into the back of the net by the Senegalese striker, it appeared as if the game that looked on paper as men against boys would progress much to that letter.
Fabinho had a chance drop to him inside the box after a corner was only cleared as far as Jones whose shot ricocheted off of Dominic Revan. The Brazilian’s shot lacked in power, but the placement was almost inch-perfect – if not for 19-year-old Ákos Onódi in goal, Liverpool would have doubled their lead but a superb stop and another save from Mané’s rebound was more than impressive from the goalkeeper.
Possession flattered Klopp’s team as chances were few and far between as a mixture of resilience and focus kept the team of under 18’s and under 23’s in the game and carved out an attack playing on the opposing team’s line of offside that would not surprise you if it came under the floodlights at Anfield for the home side.
Callum Miles Rowe was the target of Onódi’s kick out from the back and by stepping out of the challenge from Henderson a gap in the midfield was made and a clear run from Louie Barry was on as Rhys Williams was caught napping. Rowe’s through ball set off Barry, and one-on-one against Kelleher it was the 17-year-old who came out on top and levelled the scoring in the 41st minute.
The defensive determination paid off for the young men as they went into the half time break equal on the scoreline with the champions of the Premier League, a very fair reflection of the performances of the two sides.
Half time: Aston Villa 1-1 Liverpool
It was up to Liverpool to respond to what was a pretty lukewarm first-half performance and it took until the 54th minute for the ball to hit the back of the net. However, although Neco Williams’ cross-linked up with Mohammed Salah who attempted a disguised backheel shot that was saved by Onódi that bounced off the Hungarian into the path of the Egyptian who poked it into the back of the net, Salah was flagged offside as well as the final shot appearing to have taken place whilst Onódi had two hands on the ball – a goal chalked off for more reasons than one.
With nine outfield players inside the box defending the goal for Villa, Gini Wijnaldum’s shot in the 60th minute required accuracy. The Dutchman collected the ball from Minamino on the edge of the box and the first-time effort had the direction required to put the Reds back in control of the tie at 2-1.
Just three minutes later it was Sadio Mané, once again, to keep Liverpool on top as 61st-minute substitute Xherdan Shaqiri looped a ball into the box. Jake Walker was unable to get enough height to beat the prolific striker and this time the height on the shot and the diversion into the corner of the net increased the deficit.
The final goal of the night came just two minutes after Mané’s second of the evening as Shaqiri was the provider who took up the ball from Thiago outside the box and passed the ball to the feet of Salah just on the line of the penalty spot, and with Mungo Bridge not getting close enough to the Egyptian it was his favoured left foot that despatched a ruthless shot that ended the tie in the 65th minute.
For the last 25 minutes of the game, it was a question of how many more chances Liverpool would carve in the opposition and other than Thiago’s 85th-minute strike from 25 yards that crashed against the crossbar, the game ended with not many more openings for either side.
No doubt the young men for Aston Villa can be very proud of their first-half performance against Liverpool. Defensively the team were set up to frustrate the champions and that is exactly what they did for the majority of the game.
As for Klopp’s team, they can walk away with the knowledge they advance to the next round of the cup with a scoreline that flatters them in some ways. With Manchester United up next for the Reds in what is being dubbed as one of the most important North West derbies in years, off the back of this performance there needs to be a lot more being asked from the home team in the next fixture if they want to come away with all three incredibly valuable points.
Full time: Aston Villa 1-4 Liverpool
Aston Villa: Onódi (8), Bridge (6), Revan (7), Walker (7), Rowe (7), Chrisene (7), Kesler (8), Sylla (7), Raikhy (6), Bogarde (7), Barry (8).
Subs: Sohna (6), Rowe (6), Young (6), Swinkels (6), Lindley (6).
Liverpool: Kelleher (6), N. Williams (7), R. Williams (6), Fabinho (7), Milner (6), Wijnaldum (7), Henderson (7), Jones (7), Mané (8), Salah (6), Minamino (6).
Subs: Thiago (7), Firmino (6), Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Origi (6), Shaqiri (7).
Man of the match: Sadio Mané