Jayden Danns headlines Liverpool’s impressive next generation to continue FA Cup adventure

Liverpool 3-0 Southampton: Jayden Danns scored twice and Lewis Koumas hit the opener in the FA Cup fifth round

Richard Jolly
Thursday 29 February 2024 00:59 GMT

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool find new ways to make teenage dreams come true. Three days after three rookies played pivotal parts in winning a trophy at Wembley, two newcomers scored the first goals of their careers at a packed Anfield. For Lewis Koumas, it was a debut strike; for Jayden Danns, one of the novices who embarrassed Chelsea, a brace to cap a remarkable week that brought his maiden first-team game, a medal and now two finishes in front of the Kop.

Perhaps he ought to retire now: he may never have a week like this again.

And, once again, Liverpool’s academy extended their hopes of sending Klopp off with a quadruple.

In the broader reckoning, Southampton had the chances to take a three-goal lead by half-time. Yet it is Liverpool who advance to an FA Cup quarter-final with Manchester United, their remarkable season progressing with a couple of heart-warming tales of players whose surnames were familiar, but their faces were not.

It was a night for Liverpool’s nepo babies, even if places on a football field have to be earned, not inherited. Koumas is the son of Jason, formerly of Tranmere, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan and Wales. His goal was set up by Bobby Clark, son of Lee. Danns, whose father Neil conducted a tour of the Football League in his own playing days, represents another triumph of the gene pool. Koumas, Clark and Danns senior made more than 1,000 appearances between them without representing Liverpool or winning a major trophy. The next generation have already accomplished something they have not.

Lewis Koumas was an unused substitute at Wembley, promoted to start in what was arguably the weakest team Klopp has fielded this season. There was no comeback for any of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez or Dominik Szoboszlai while Wataru Endo made it 13 absentees.

The starting 11 contained six players aged 21 or under and their squad numbers added up to 450: the No 67 broke the deadlock and the No 76 was brought on to seal victory. By the end, Trey Nyoni, the 16-year-old wearing 98, was on for his own debut. It was quite a night for Klopp’s creche.

Taken from Tranmere at Under-11 level, Koumas has proved prolific in Liverpool’s youth teams this season. Yet a goal at this level has rather more meaning – and it was made in the academy: Clark finding Koumas, who wrongfooted Joe Lumley with a deflected shot.

Koumas celebrates with Quansah after scoring the opener
Koumas celebrates with Quansah after scoring the opener (AFP via Getty Images)

Fresh from his cameo against Chelsea, the effervescent Danns is staking an early claim to belong to Liverpool’s tradition of impact substitutes. He is yet to start a game but 11 minutes after coming on, he scored his first senior goal. He latched on to a pass from Harvey Elliott, a veteran at 20, to dink a shot over Joe Lumley. He then powered in the rebound after Conor Bradley, another 20-year-old, had a shot parried. If Koumas was the first player to score for Liverpool who was born after their 2005 Champions League win, he soon had company: Danns is still younger.

It made for a successful evening for a side that, it is safe to say, will never play together again. Joe Gomez anchored the midfield; a player renowned more for his sprinting taking on the responsibility for passing. Yet while Southampton had actually made more changes – eight to Klopp’s six – it was no surprise that Russell Martin’s side showed the more cohesion in the first half.

They are entitled to think the scoreline was deceptive, but it was a product both of their own profligacy and the fine form of Caoimhin Kelleher, carrying on where he left off at Wembley. He twice denied the elusive Sekou Mara and saved from Kamaldeen Sulemana, who combined speed with an inability to finish or take the right option.

Kelleher was impressive again to keep another clean sheet
Kelleher was impressive again to keep another clean sheet (Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Liverpool made a false start: the offside Mara had the ball in their net after 26 seconds. Sulemana hit the base of the far post, while one of the worst misses came from the unmarked Shea Charles, shooting tamely into the side-netting.

Yet Southampton’s upbeat approach was an indictment of Chelsea, who froze when confronted with Liverpool’s most inexperienced players at Wembley. The Championship side acquitted themselves well, showing passing principles, considerable pace and hints of gegenpressing.

But they encountered a Liverpool side with a form of momentum they can maintain even when their players are likelier to line up for the youth team than the senior side. That they won is testament to the culture Klopp has created, to the way that corny stories become reality.

But it meant that a night that began with the Carabao Cup being paraded around Anfield ended with a growing chance they will be able to bring the FA Cup back here, too. Along with more medals for some teenagers.

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