BIRMINGHAM, England — The youngest ever Liverpool team to play a competitive game was taken to school in the English League Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday.
With its best players in Qatar for the Club World Cup, Liverpool was forced to field its youngsters - with an average age of 19 years, 182 days - against Aston Villa and they were beaten 5-0.
Four of the goals came in the first half for Villa, which reached the last four of a competition it has won five times - most recently in 1996.
As for Liverpool, it was the club’s first domestic loss of the season and it was hardly unexpected given the circumstances.
An unusual fixture clash meant the Premier League leaders had to play two games in separate competitions in a 24-hour period on different continents.
So while manager Jürgen Klopp and star players like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk headed to Qatar to play in the Club World Cup - a tournament featuring the winners of the various continental club titles - Liverpool had to scramble together a patched-up team full of youth players to play Villa in the League Cup.
There were five players making their debuts in the senior team - one was forward Tom Hill, wearing No. 99 on the back of his jersey - while Neil Critchley, the coach of Liverpool’s under-23 team, replaced Klopp in the dugout. Speaking in Doha hours before kickoff, Klopp said he would be watching the game on TV with the senior players.
He would have been impressed with how his youngsters started as they swarmed all over a Villa side that also left out many of its first-choice players.
Liverpool didn’t take any of its chances, though, and was made to pay.
“For long periods, I thought we were well in the game,” Critchley said. "You get a harsh reality of the quality you are facing. We ran out of a little bit of legs and steam in the second half, which was understandable but it was an incredible night.
“I don’t think anyone wanted it to end.”
Villa’s first two goals were cruel on Liverpool. Conor Hourihane’s inswinging free kick missed everyone in the area and crept inside the far post in the 14th minute, before Ahmed Elmohamady sent in a right-wing cross that took a wicked deflection off Morgan Boyes, looped over the goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, and dropped into the far corner to make it 2-0 three minutes later.
Striker Jonathan Kodjia added two more goals before halftime, in the 37th and 45th minutes, as Villa took advantage of some slack defending by Liverpool’s youngsters.
The visitors held their own in the second half until substitute Wesley added a fifth goal in injury time of a match that, for many critics, calls into question the integrity of the competition.
“It was probably a lose-lose (situation),” Hourihane said. “Everybody expected us to win so we had to be professional and do our job.”
Critchley described it as an “enjoyably tough” occasion for his young team, and said Villa manager Dean Smith and assistant coach John Terry - the former England captain - came into the locker room after the game to congratulate Liverpool's players.
“They said how difficult we made it for them, that we have some really good players, to keep going and wished us all the best for the future,” Critchley said. “That will be a moment that I remember and the players remember for the rest of our lives.”
The other three quarterfinal matches take place on Wednesday, with Manchester City continuing the
Manchester United is at home to fourth-tier Colchester, while there is an all-Premier League match-up between Everton and Leicester.
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The Associated Press