Liverpool eventually cruised into the FA Cup fourth round following a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa’s makeshift team of youngsters.
The Villans were forced to field a side largely consisting of U23 and U18 players after a significant Covid-19 outbreak ruled Dean Smith and his first-team squad out of attending the tie.
Under 23 coach Mark Delaney oversaw proceedings and he would have feared the worst when Sadio Mane nodded home after four minutes.
However, Villa’s kids grew in confidence as the game wore on and stunned the Premier League champions four minutes before the break when 17-year-old Louie Barry raced clear to level matters.
Louie Barry of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring their sides first goal during the FA Cup Third Round match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on January 08, 2021 in Birmingham, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed
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A strong Liverpool line-up were frustrated right up until the hour mark when three goals in five minutes from Gini Wijnaldum, Mane and Mo Salah broke Villa’s spirited resistance.
The home side’s youngsters will take much of the plaudits for keeping pace with the Premier League champions for long spells, but ultimately it is the Merseysiders who have booked their spot in the draw for the next round.
Villa’s Premier League fixture with Tottenham on Wednesday remains a doubt while Liverpool will be pleased to have returned to winning ways ahead of a crunch top of the table showdown with Manchester United a week on Sunday.
Villa’s kids are alright, but no surprise to see lacklustre Liverpool eventually seal progress. Once it was confirmed Villa would have to field a team of youngsters following the Covid-19 outbreak within the first-team squad, it was always going to be a case of just getting the job done for Liverpool and looking to the next game.
Villa had seven U23 and four U18 players in their line-up with the average age of their squad just 18 years and 294 days. Those who featured all gave a good account of themselves until the Reds finally ran away with it in the second period. There were certainly a few names to look out for in the future for Villa supporters who will be keen to see more of the likes of former Barcelona starlet, Barry in the months and years ahead.
It was a fantastic FA Cup moment to see Villa’s kids level but perhaps again highlighted that Liverpool could do with signing another centre back despite Jurgen Klopp’s claim they probably won’t. It’s not been a vintage period for Klopp and his champions. A three-game winless run ended here, but not before they were (briefly) left red-faced once again at Villa Park this season. The Reds are into the fourth round but will need to find some extra gears for United.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Sadio Mane (Liverpool). It would be all too easy to go for the romantic option and pick one of Villa’s young guns, particularly Akos Onodi who made a series of top saves. Mane edges him out for the award for a two-goal burst and a professional display where his team had to be very patient.
Sadio Mane of Liverpool (C) celebrates after scoring their sides first goal next to Takumi Minamino and Neco Williams during the FA Cup Third Round match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on January 08, 2021 in Birmingham, England.
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ASTON VILLA: Onodi 8, Bridge 8, Revan 7, Walker 7, Rowe 7, Chrisene 7, Barry 8, Kesler 8, Sylla 7, Raikhy 7, Bogarde 7. Subs: Young 6, Lindley 6, Sohna 6, Swinkels 6, Rowe 6.
LIVERPOOL: Kelleher 6, N Williams 7, R Williams 6, Fabinho 6, Milner 6, Henderson 6, Wijnaldum 7, Jones 7, Mane 8, Minamino 7, Salah 7. Subs: Thiago 8, Firmino 6, Shaqiri 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Origi 6.
4’ - GOAL! – Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool. Mane breezes into the middle to power a header into the net from a right-wing cross.
41’ – GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-1 Liverpool. Louie Barry is sent rampaging clear after bursting beyond Liverpool's high line. He holds off Rhys Williams before coolly slotting beyond Kelleher.
60’ - GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool. Wijnaldum fires a first-time shot into the bottom corner after good work from Salah and Minamino.
63’ - GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool. That will seal it. Mane loops a header into the far corner from a right-wing delivery.
65’ - GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-4 Liverpool. It's four! Salah spins on to Shaqiri's pass and rifles a low shot into the bottom corner.
Since the start of the 2014/15 season, Sadio Mané has scored eight goals in all competitions against Aston Villa, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10) in this time.
Barry, aged 17 years and 201 days, is the youngest player to score an FA Cup goal for a Premier League team since Rony Lopes (17y 8d) in January 2013 for Manchester City vs Watford.
There were just four minutes and 20 seconds between Liverpool's second and fourth goals against Aston Villa.
Shaqiri is the first Liverpool player to assist two goals as a substitute since James Milner vs Spartak Moscow in December 2017 (3) and Shaqiri assisted those two goals within 208 seconds of coming off the bench.