FA Cup: Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 4 - Report

The FA Cup has always been about the underdog yet rarely in the competition’s 150-year history can there have been a mismatch like this.

So young was the Villa team fielded against Liverpool many of the players had to be dropped off at the ground by their parents prior to kick-off.

The average age of the starting XI was 18 and all were making their debuts in senior football. It was comfortably the youngest team Villa had named for a senior match in club history.

Their opponent was a team packed full of Champions League winners and internationals, with more to come off the bench.

All of which obviously requires taking into account when assessing the final score. Indeed, for 19 minutes either side of half-time the Villa youngsters were dreaming of a shock after 17-year-old Louie Barry netted his first senior goal to cancel out Sadio Mane’s opener.

With one swing of his right boot Barry, a boyhood Villa fan who arrived at the club from Albion via a brief stint at Barcelona, salvaged what would otherwise have been a sad night for the world’s oldest cup competition.

Villa were playing their kids because they had little other choice, after a coronavirus outbreak ruled out their entire first-team squad.

It meant under-23s boss Mark Delaney took charge of a patchwork XI, many of whom had only returned to training this week after a Christmas break.

But while Liverpool pulled away in the second half to win comfortably through goals from Sane, Gigi Wijnaldum and Mo Salah, the overriding emotion from Villa’s perspective was not embarrassment but pride in the performance of their youngsters. For Barry, meanwhile, this was a night he will never forget.

The task facing Villa’s youngsters hit home the moment the teams were announced.

Liverpool boss Klopp went far stronger than anticipated in his selection, almost inappropriately so. In addition to Mane and Salah up front, there was also the presence of England’s Jordan Henderson in midfield.

Even Villa’s makeshift XI, selected by Delaney, was weakened further by the absence of several leading young players who had recently trained with the first-team and been required to isolate.

The line-up featured seven teenagers, the youngest of them Ben Chrisene at the age of just 16. Callum Rowe, 21, was the senior man of the group.

Villa’s entire backroom staff on the night consisted of academy staff. Delaney took charge, assisted by U18s boss Sean Verity, while Villa’s academy chief Mark Harrison was also in attendance.

At least the man in charge of Villa Park’s public address system saw the funny side, blasting out The Who’s The Kids Are Alright as the youngsters ran out to begin their warm-up.

It took just four minutes for the Reds to break the deadlock when Curtis Jones crossed from the right and Mane, in acres of space, headed beyond Villa’s Hungarian goalkeeper Akos Onodi.

But Wijnaldum then missed the chance to double the lead when he volleyed lazily over from just six yards out and that set the tone for a first-half where the visitors couldn’t find their rhythm.

They still had the vast majority of the play and the chances. Fabinho brought a smart stop from Onodi, with Mane then rattling the post from close range. Onodi also denied Salah with a fine save low down to his left as the visitors hunted a second.

Yet Villa’s youngsters, as eager and energetic as you would expect on such an occasion, were some way from being outclassed.

Barry had already shown his pace with a run down the right flank which resulted in the home team winning a corner.

Then, four minutes before the break, came his moment. With Villa growing in confidence, Rowe brought the ball out of defence before firing it beyond the Liverpool defence for Barry to chase. After holding off the challenge of Rhys Williams, he raced through on goal before firing a low finish beyond Caiomhin Kelleher and into the bottom corner.

While Villa’s team, substitutes included, celebrated together by the corner of the North and Trinity Road Stand, Liverpool’s players looked rather shell-shocked.

They quickly set about trying to restore their advantage before the break but Villa held firm, Onodi saving a long-range Jones effort moments before referee Craig Pawson brought proceedings to a close.

Klopp made his first change at the break by replacing Henderson with Thiago Alcantara, a Champions League winner with Bayern Munich last season.

Liverpool duly picked up where they had left off yet Villa remained stubborn, Jake Walker throwing himself in the way of a James Milner drive, before Fabinho headed straight at Onodi from a corner.

The hosts had a lucky escape soon after when Salah bundled the ball home after a great pass from Thiago, only to see the effort ruled out by referee Pawson for a foul on Onodi. Replays showed little evidence for the latter, with Villa thankful this was one match where VAR was not in use.

Still, there was now a sense of inevitability about the second as Villa tired and the match began to take place exclusively around their 18 yard box.

Wijnaldum eventually made the breakthrough on the hour mark, side-footing home from just inside the box after good work from Jones and Takumi Minamino.

It was the first of three goals in five minutes as Liverpool accelerated away to clinch their progress through to round four.

The other two were both set up by Xherdan Shaqiri, shortly after coming on as a substitute. The Switzerland international first lifted a cross into the box for Mane to loop a header beyond Onodi, before passing to Salah, who pulled a finish into the bottom corner from 16 yards out.

Klopp brought on Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino for the closing stages but Villa sustained no further damage, Thiago hitting the bar with a long-range effort late on.

Teams

Villa (4-3-3): Onodi, Walker (Swinkels 75), Bridge, Revan D, Rowe C (Rowe E 75), Sylla, Raikhy (Sohna 66), Bogarde (Lindley 66), Kesler, Barry, Chrisene (Young 62) Subs not used: Jay-Hart, Tait, Ealing, Zych (gk).

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Kelleher, N. Williams, R. Williams, Fabinho, Milner, Henderson (Thiago HT), Wijnaldum, Jones (Firmino 62), Mane (Origi 75), Minamino (Shaqiri 62), Salah (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75) Subs not used: Robertson, Phillips, Alexander-Arnold, Alisson (gk).

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