Liverpool’s Under-23s boss Neil Critchley has defended the club’s decision to play their youngest-ever side in the 5-0 defeat by Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
The average age of the team was 19 years and 182 days, with Liverpool’s senior side at the Club World Cup.
Critchley, who took charge of the team, said: “Try telling those players it was a bad evening for them.
“My overwhelming feeling was one of immense pride.”
Before kick-off, some pundits had felt Liverpool would have been better sending a mix of youth and experience to both the EFL Cup and the Club World Cup, while there some criticisms of the English Football League on social media for not re-scheduling Tuesday’s game.
However, Critchley felt the club made the best of unusual circumstances.
“This was decided by the club as the best solution,” he added.
“We are the beneficiaries of the success of the first team and we could not have done much more.”
Some of the youngsters have now headed out to Qatar to join the first team, while Critchley revealed that Villa boss Dean Smith and his assistant John Terry came into the Liverpool dressing room at the end of the match.
“We just told the Liverpool players, ‘well done’ and keep working at what they are doing,” said Smith.
“I came through coaching those sorts of age groups. It was great to see them on that stage tonight; we had to be very professional.
“It was a bit of a weird game, probably the weirdest one I’ve been involved in for a quarter-final of a major competition. They had technically gifted players, were tactically switched on and they made it very difficult for us at times.”
This was Liverpool’s youngest side in their 127-year history, eclipsing the previous youngest team Liverpool fielded, in an FA Cup game against Plymouth in 2017. The average age of that side 21 years and 296 days.
The oldest players in the Reds’ side on Tuesday were captain for the night Pedro Chirivella and Isaac Christie-Davies, both 22.
Harvey Elliott, 16, Tom Hill, 17, and Luis Longstaff, 18, made up the front three.
Chirivella started the game with the most senior Liverpool appearances with seven. Herbie Kane had the most first-team appearances with 50, although 49 of those were for Doncaster last season.
Seven of the 11 Liverpool players on the pitch at the end of the game were teenagers.
The young Reds actually made a very impressive start and could have found themselves 2-0 up inside the first 10 minutes but for some excellent goalkeeping.
Elliott was particularly impressive and had an early shot tipped over by Orjan Nyland before putting an other effort into the side netting shortly after Nyland kept out Kane’s powerful drive.
But Villa’s first was a sucker punch as Conor Hourihane’s free-kick went straight in and three more goals before half-time killed off the game as a contest.
A confidence-damaging result or a good learning curve?
There were a few differing views on whether Liverpool were right to field such a young side but, on the whole, the reaction was positive.
“Full marks to the Liverpool players,” ex-Aston Villa midfielder Andy Townsend said on BBC Radio 5 live.
“They played with courage, rattled Villa’s cage a little bit at the beginning but ultimately, as expected, Villa won.”
Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp praised the youngsters’ composure, particularly early in the game.
“The kids started so well,” he said on Sky Sports.
“It’s never been a 5-0 game. Villa have been more clinical. In the first 10-15 minutes, Liverpool were great. They looked like the home team.”
“You’ve got to give the kids a lot of credit,” added former Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie.
Meanwhile, former Villa defender Alan Hutton felt mixing the EFL Cup and Club World Cup squads would perhaps have been a better option.
“I was more of the opinion that they [Liverpool] should have split the squad to make it more even,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Winning a trophy is massive for going forward as a team. I was lucky enough to win it in 2008 with Tottenham.
“I just thought they could have made the teams a little stronger to compete on both fronts.”
Coach Johnny D: Why is the FA incapable of working out simple solutions? Why not play the first round of the League Cup on the Saturday before the regular Football League season starts, shifting every round forward, getting three rounds done by the end of August!
Steven Richards: Liverpool’s attitude to the League Cup is mixed. In the 60s we refused to play in it. In the 70s we called it the Mickey Mouse Cup. In the 80s we won it four times on the trot. The 90s, it was a limit of our ambition. We are record holders still but there are bigger fish now.
Indy Kler: In hindsight it was not the right decision by Liverpool. It was lambs to the slaughter and I feel for the youngsters and their confidence. I fully expect Liverpool to win the Champions League again this season, can’t wait to see if they use an alternative solution next year!
Kakashi: Although the Liverpool youngsters lost, I’m really impressed with their performance and composure on the ball. They played well tonight.
Tom, a Spurs fan: The EFL should hang their heads in shame. The lack of organisation and planning is well beyond incompetent. A real credit to the Liverpool youngsters for giving it their all, and to Villa for taking their foot off the gas and not destroying a group of young kids 10-0.
Darren: It’s pretty simple, Liverpool have put their strongest side in the competition that means more to them. No doubt sponsors would have had an input in which was more important. They are the ones paying millions after all.
Paul McDevitt: It’s not Liverpool disrespecting the club or Villa, bit a clear own goal by the EFL standing on their own principles. No VAR required to work that out.
Premier League Babble: People complaining about respect for the competition should look at the stats. 57% possession and 15 shots shows this young Liverpool team took it very seriously and Villa showed respect with their professionalism and ruthlessness.
New English Football League chief executive Rick Parry felt the “sensible” decision had been taken to enable Liverpool to play in both the EFL Cup and the Club World Cup.
He said prior to Tuesday’s game: “I think we have actually come up with a very pragmatic solution that first and foremost worked for Liverpool. It was sensible to say ‘you have a major problem here, what’s going to be the right solution for you?’ rather than a bureaucratic ‘this is the rule’.
“The one thing I learned from being at Liverpool is you play your fixtures as soon as possible; you never push them back.
“Having been at Anfield to watch the game against Arsenal with the Liverpool kids – which was one of the greatest nights of football entertainment I have had for many years – I don’t think they are weakening the integrity of the competition unduly. I think it was a sensible solution and making the best of bad circumstances.”