5 talking points as Liverpool survive scare to ease to FA Cup win at Aston Villa
Liverpool turned on the style in the second half to avoid embarrassment by Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round.
Jurgen Klopp fielded a strong XI against a Villa team with an average age of 18 years and 294 days due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club's training ground.
Sadio Mane's early goal appeared to set the visitors on course for victory at Villa Park, but they were quickly frustrated by their spirited opposition.
And, incredibly, Louie Barry was on hand to equalise late in the first half after a stunning through-ball by Callum Miles Rowe.
Jurgen Klopp was forced to bring on Thiago in place of Jordan Henderson at the interval and the change helped Liverpool avoid another desparate 45 minutes.
Gini Wijnaldum put the visitors ahead, before Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah scored quick-fire goals to ensure the Reds finished strongly as Villa dwindled late on.
Here are five talking points from a remarkable night in the Midlands.
1. Liverpool's first-half frustration
Although Sadio Mane got the visitors off to the perfect start with his fourth-minute header, Liverpool failed to capitalise and quickly found themselves struggling to breakdown a well-structured low block.
Mohamed Salah and Gini Wijnaldum were found guilty of shooting when there were better passing options on, and Villa's 19-year-old Akos Onodi stole the show with a number of acrobatic saves.
Liverpool came into the match in poor form, winless in three Premier League games having scored just one goal in that time.
Many expected they would dust off the cobwebs against the youngest team they had ever faced, but the game just further exhibited how toothless they are in front of goal at present.
Decision making was poor, finishing was not clinical enough and intensity was lacking.
2. Barry's moment of magic
It's been a remarkable couple of years for Aston Villa's 17-year-old starlet Louie Barry.
The Birmingham native came through the ranks with West Brom before joining Barcelona in July 2019 to continue his development.
But before Barca had even settled a compensation package with West Brom, Barry returned to the Midlands to join Aston Villa for £880,000.
Making his senior debut for the club, Barry started on the front foot and caused the makeshift centre-back pairing of Fabinho and Rhys Williams some early problems.
There were glimmers of promise from the youngster and Villa grew into the game as the first half wore on, but few expected what would come in the 41st minute.
Callum Miles Rowe split the two centre-backs with an incisive through-ball and Barry burst onto the ball, outpacing Rhys Williams and brushing the ball beyond Caoimhin Kelleher.
Barry is tipped to achieve great things, and his goal against Liverpool is a moment he will always remember.
3. Klopp's changes pay dividends
It's a fairly damning indictment that Jurgen Klopp was forced to take off his captain for the more expansive Thiago at half-time, given the youthfulness of Liverpool's opposition.
Nonetheless, the change proved a wise one and Liverpool soon kicked into life after a laboured first half.
Thiago unlocked the Villa defence early in the second half only for Mohamed Salah to see a goal ruled out for offside.
But the Spaniard – making his fifth appearance for the Reds – kept his side ticking over and the goals soon came.
Takumi Minamino teed-up Gini Wijnaldum as Liverpool restored their lead, before substitute Xherdan Shaqiri picked up two assists in three minutes as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah furthered the advantage.
4. The age gulf
You're probably aware there was an age gap between the two sides at Villa Park. Just how big a gulf it was, however, you may not have grasped.
The average age of Aston Villa's starters was just 18 years and 294 days, while Liverpool's stood at over well over 26. Indeed, when James Milner made his Leeds debut in 2002, four of Villa's starting XI had not been born and their oldest player on show was just three.
It appeared the more experienced side would cruise to victory after Sadio Mane's opener, as Liverpool dominated the early stages and they appeared to have a clear physical advantage over their hosts.
But remarkably, the hosts grew into the match, with some excellent saves by Akos Onodi and resolute defending injecting them with confidence.
By the time Louie Barry found the back of the net, few could say the equaliser was not deserved.
5. Villa's remarkable youngsters
There was no shortage of fine performances among Aston Villa's youthful starting XI.
Louie Barry will grab the headlines thanks to his incredible goal, but goalkeeper Akos Onodi also caught the eye.
The 19-year-old Hungarian helped limited the deficit to just one goal before Barry's equaliser, producing a number of fine saves.
Fielded in a 4-5-1, Villa were generally compact and hard to break down, with 17-year-old defender Kaine Kesler and 16-year-old midfielder Benjamin Chrisene among the many players who produced performances beyond their years.
Unfortunately, the marked schism between the two team's fitness levels showed late on. Villa's youngsters were almost dead on their feet as Liverpool's attacks became relentless in the closing stages.
The youngsters did themselves proud, however, and the match will prove a vital learning experience for them going forward.
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