An extremely young Liverpool team bowed out of the Carabao Cup after falling to a 5-0 defeat away to Aston Villa tonight.
With the senior players in Qatar preparing for the Club World Cup semi final against Monterrey of Mexico tomorrow, the Reds opted to pick a squad — with an average age of 19 — composed of players from their under 17, 19 and 23 teams.
A brace of goals from Jonathan Kodjia, a Morgan Boyes own goal and further strikes from Conor Hourihane and Wesley saw the Villains through, but the scoreline massively flattered the hosts.
Managed on the night by U23 manager Neil Critchley, Liverpool — with Harvey Elliott especially impressive — played excellent, enterprising football and, if it wasn’t for Orjan Nyland in the home team’s goal, would have had a goal or two to show for their efforts.
Showing all the idealism of youth, the 8 time League Cup winners imposed their game on Dean Smith’s Villa from the get go.
With much of the play focused down the right hand side, the area of the pitch where Ki-Jana Hoever and Elliott — two of the most promising prospects on display — Nyland was forced into two early saves; one from midfielder Luis Longstaff and the other from Elliott.
Against the run of play, the hosts took the lead in the 14th minute when Conor Hourihane’s deflected free kick beat his fellow Cork man, Caoimhin Kelleher, in the Liverpool.
One goal soon became two and in similarly unfortunate circumstances. Egyptian international Ahmed El Elmohamady’s deflected cross looped up off Boyes and past Kelleher. The 32 year celebrating like he had scored a meaningful goal in a World Cup final raised more than a few eyebrows and perhaps suggested a relief, given how poorly the home team had played, relatively.
The young Reds continued to probe, but their inexperience was clear as they conceded their fourth and fifth goals in the ten minutes preceding half time.
Kodjia, the Ivorian international, twice punished poor positioning from the Liverpool defence, with Sepp van Den Berg, particularly guilty, to give the Birmingham based club an unassailable 4-0 half time lead.
The second half followed the same pattern, with Liverpool knitting together some pretty patterns of play but not having the requisite experience to turn opportunities into goals.
Elliott, who looked the most talented player on a pitch containing senior Brazil, Republic of Ireland and Ivory Coast internationals, consistently found space on the right hand side and played several passes that lead to half chances.
One pass, in particular, to Herbie Kane was of the highest quality. Cutting onto his left from just outside the box, Elliott spotted the run of the former Doncaster Rovers loanee and delicately delivered a chipped pass into his path. Kane headed straight at Nyland, but the vision and execution from the 16 year old were of the finest quality.
The Reds, despite all their good, attacking play, did look vulnerable on the counter attack — a sure sign of inexperience — and it was through this route that Villa added their fifth goal.
With Liverpool committing men forward, Trezeguet — a player with Champions League experience with Anderlecht — slid Brazil international Wesley through on goal and the burly forward calmly fired low past Kelleher into the bottom right corner.
In a press conference from Doha today, manager Jurgen Klopp said he expected a performance from the young team, rather than a result. And, despite shipping a heavy loss, the German is bound to be happy with the attitude and the qualities shown by the young players.
Liverpool team: Kelleher; Hoever, Boyes, van Der Berg; Gallagher; Chirivella, Longstaff, Kane; Elliott, Hill, Christie Davies.
Substitutions: Bearne for Longstaff, Clarkson for Christie Davies, Norris for Hoever.
Subs not used: Winterbottom, Dixon Bonner, Stewart, Clayton.