Liverpool beat Aston Villa 4-1 on Friday in an FA Cup Third Round clash at Villa Park. Here are five things we learned from the performance.
This is a notably strong side for an FA Cup Third Round game. Jurgen Klopp usually puts out a second-string at best – even against Everton’s first-team last year.
This year, though, Klopp went with a very strong team. Only three were what you’d call ‘youth players’ and even they have started multiple senior games this year.
This might just be a sign that Liverpool are taking the competition more seriously this year.
The flow just isn’t there. Liverpool were up against kids here but, particularly in the first-half, struggled to create good chances with any regularity.
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Contrast that to the game against Lincoln City earlier in the season. The Reds hit seven with a weaker team, against senior players.
It suggests that the flow and rhythm of last season isn’t there right now. The players aren’t suddenly bad, nor are Villa’s kids particularly special.
The encouragement comes from the second-half. Liverpool did look brighter and sharper to eventually beat Villa 4-1 – essentially, what we expected from the get-go.
Hopefully, then, this was a little sign that things might get better from here.
Villa’s first-half goal was not a good look. It was far, far too easy for them to do that.
Yes, Liverpool could have pressed the pass better but Rhys Williams was far too flat in defence. He didn’t read the run and drop at all and was caught out by a bit of pace.
That’s a worry. If kids can pull that off easily, then Premier League teams will learn to as well. Soon, Williams won’t be an option for games of any size.
It might be different if he had Virgil van Dijk alongside him but Fabinho is not an elite ‘help’ defender. He can’t be, given he’s never played a full season there.
The fact Jordan Henderson played at centre-half at the weekend over Williams was already a sign that Klopp had reservations. This won’t have helped.
If we were to rank places in the squad after this, Xherdan Shaqiri comfortably leapt above Takumi Minamino.
Now, some might argue he was already above him – and that’s fair. But the difference was clear as day in this one.
Minamino struggled to affect the game in any meaningful way. Shaqiri, on the other hand, came off the bench and consistently took up great positions around the box.
He just looked like far more of a threat. If we could pick one to come off the bench against Manchester United next week, it would undoubtedly be the Swiss.
Got there in the end
Liverpool did, eventually, get what they wanted from this one. It was comfortable, their two primary goalscorers got on the sheet, and plenty got a run-out.
On top of that, Villa put up a bit of a fight. They made Liverpool work for this one. Again, Liverpool wanted that.
They could have shown up, won 5-0, and learned nothing. At least with this one, they had some problems to solve.
It’s the best they could have hoped for ahead of the United game next week. Look, they were never getting much from this one – they faced kids, after all – but they got as much as they could.
Hopefully, there was enough in this to help them rediscover some Premier League form.