Liverpool’s youngest ever team suffered a harsh lesson on Tuesday as Aston Villa ran out 5-0 winners to reach the League Cup semifinals, with Jonathan Kodjia scoring twice.
An unrecognisable Liverpool line-up contained five debutants and an average age of 19 years, six months and three days with the European champions’ first team and coaching staff, including manager Jurgen Klopp, in Qatar for their Club World Cup semifinal against Monterrey on Wednesday.
That inexperience showed defensively despite a much better performance from the visitors than the scoreline suggests.
“I thought we were magnificent,” said Liverpool’s stand-in manager Neil Critchley.
“We were really unfortunate to concede from a free-kick and a cruel deflection and find ourselves 2-0 down.
“It was an incredible night and no-one wanted it to end.”
Villa made 10 changes themselves with Premier League survival their priority and could have had a much tougher night had Liverpool taken advantage of a bright start.
“It was a bit of a weird game, probably the weirdest one I’ve been involved in for a quarterfinal of a major competition,” said Villa boss Dean Smith.
“I came through coaching those sorts of age groups. It was great to see them on that stage tonight, so we had to be very professional.”
Harvey Elliot became the youngest player to ever play in the Premier League just a month after his 16th birthday last season when at Fulham before a summer move to Anfield.
And he was the standout performer of Liverpool’s young crop as his driven effort produced a good early save from Orjan Nyland.
However, the floodgates opened 14 minutes in when Conor Hourihane’s free-kick evaded everyone and flew under Caoimhin Kelleher’s grasp.
“It was a lose-lose for us,” Hourihane told Sky Sports. “Everyone expected us to win and we just had to do our jobs.”
The Irish under-21 international goalkeeper was unfortunate again moments later when Ahmed Elmohamady’s attempted cross deflected off Morgan Boyes and looped in at the far post for an own goal.
Kodjia had not scored this season prior to kick-off with his chances in Smith’s first team severely restricted by the signing of Brazilian striker Wesley in the summer.
However, he made the most of the chance for a confidence boost by slotting past Kelleher and then turning home another Elmohamady cross from the right.
Villa showed some mercy by easing up on the youngsters after the break, but could still easily have scored more than five.
Wesley came off the bench to round off the scoring in stoppage time with his first goal in 10 games.
Liverpool’s decision to play two games in two days in two different continents and with two very different squads was criticised in some quarters for showing a lack of respect to the League Cup.
But amidst a run of 15 games in 50 days across five competitions, it was well down the list of Liverpool’s priorities as they attempt to win a first league title for 30 years and hope to defend the Champions League come the new year.
Villa, meanwhile, can look forward to a first cup semifinal in five years with the other three quarterfinal ties taking place on Wednesday.