A second-half blitz from Liverpool, powered by Thiago and Xherdan Shaqiri, saved them from embarrassment against Aston Villa’s kids to secure their passage into the FA Cup fourth round.
One of the ties affected by the global pandemic still managed to produce moments of amazement and storylines of interest.
Jurgen Klopp was in the middle of the final analytics meeting with his coaches on Thursday in preparation for the game when there was a knock on the door and a delivery of the message that Villa may have problems fielding a team.
It was only after Liverpool’s training session when the scale of positive tests - nine players and five staff - for the opposition became apparent. Villa would have to field an academy squad, under the charge of Under-23 coach Mark Delaney.
Klopp had the luxury of sticking with the starting line-up he originally drafted for the game: an unexpectedly strong XI featuring Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Villa, by contrast, stitched together a side late on, under strange circumstances with an average age of 18 years, 291 days. Their oldest player was 21 and three of the squad were 16, but here they were readying to tussle with the Premier League champions.
“Just it enjoy it lads,” was the standard encouragement from Villa’s first-team and that didn’t seem possible given the size of the task of the boys facing quite accomplished men.
Four minutes into the first half it looked even more fanciful after Mane dissected two defenders with his movement to head in a Curtis Jones cross.
It was incredibly easy for Liverpool, possibly too much so, because they began to get stale and sloppy in possession.
Gini Wijnaldum missed a sitter, Akos Onodi saved from Fabinho but nearing half-an-hour into the encounter, an energetic Villa began to find their confidence in possession.
Louie Barry, the one marked to watch before kick off given his spell at Barcelona and status as the gem in Villa’s academy, punished Liverpool’s lax attitude with supreme composure.
Callum Rowe took advantage of Liverpool’s high line, supplying him with the perfect ball to get in behind the defence.
Barry burned Rhys WIlliams, was one-on-one with Caoimhin Kelleher and finished with a calmness and surety that belied his age.
That was four minutes to the break and it was now Klopp’s men that feared being embarrassed.
Thiago was introduced and Liverpool gained greater control of the match, his pedigreed passing range decorating the fixture before Shaqiri added much needed variety to their attacking play, which had become predictable.
Three goals in under five minutes from the hour mark, scored by Wijnaldum, Mane and Salah averted what would have been a catastrophe for the visitors.
Shaqiri provided two assists and as Villa tired, multiple players struggling with cramp, Liverpool pushed on.
The result was unsurprising given the gulf of quality and experience as was the fact there was such a forceful reaction from league champions in the second half.
But, in the circumstances, nothing can erode the shock of Villa’s youngsters - thrown together at the last minute with no preparation - being level with Liverpool at the interval.
The look on Barry’s face and that of his teammates was a pictorial response to those “just enjoy it lads” messages.
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