Liverpool reached the FA Cup fourth round with a comfortable victory over a covid-19 affected Villa though it took efforts in the second half to get on top of a home side made of academy players with no first-team experience.
Coronavirus outbreak at Aston Villa’s training ground earlier this week meant the first-team players weren’t available to Villa. Therefore, the club opted to field a starting XI composed of seven under-23 players and four from the under-18s.
Despite conceding in the fourth minute when Sadio Mane headed in, Villa remained resolute in defense for the rest of the half before stunning the visitors when 17-year-old Louie Barry equalized.
Unfortunately for Villa, Liverpool exerted more pressure on the tired youngsters in the second half. The Reds scored three more goals in a five-minute spell after the break.
Wijnaldum stroked in Liverpool’s second on the hour mark before Mane looped in a header as Salah struck a low shot from inside the area.
Young Players Provide a Silver Lining for Aston Villa
As a result of COVID-19 outbreak, the club’s chief executive, Christian Purslow explained how the staff, on Thursday had to fine enough players from the under-23s and under-18s to come up with a matchday squad. The selected players then had to be tested for COVID. Thankfully, for Villa, the results came back negative on Friday morning and the youngsters were good to play.
Meanwhile, a penny for the thoughts of the Villa youngsters when they were told they would be lining up against the likes of Mane, Salah and Henderson. Supposedly according to Purslow, he said that many of the players were so young that their “mums and dads would be dropping them off at Villa Park”.
Stand-in manager, Mark Delaney looked as startled as those reading the teamsheet when he gave his pre-match interview. He knew his mixed bag of youth players had little to no chance of taking their opponents to extra time. However, they did perform better than some would have expected and the goal from Barry will have lifted spirits at the club.
The level of confidence shown by the teenagers to get in front of defender Rhys Williams and stroke the ball past Caoimhin Kelleher was superb as was the through ball from Callum Rowe.
His team-mates were equally outstanding. 19-year-old keeper Akos Onodi made brilliant stops to deny Curtis Jones and Salah. On the other hand, the defense in front of him prevented the Hungarian from having an even busier night with skipper Dominic Revan and Mungo Bridge both showcasing excellence.