Jurgen Klopp made his position clear from the outset. The scheduling of an FA Cup fourth-round replay during Liverpool’s winter break was too much for the manager to stomach. The German declared that he would not be attending Tuesday’s meeting with Shrewsbury, and nor would any of his first-team players.
It was a controversial move. The Shrews sensed an opportunity. Winning at Anfield is never straightforward. But it is certainly easier when your opponents are Liverpool’s Under-23s, as opposed to the first team.
In the end, though, it was the Premier League giants who triumphed. Led by Curtis Jones, Liverpool’s youngsters sent an ominous message to the rest of England’s top division: there is more to this club than its first-choice XI.
This week was not the first time Klopp has fielded a youthful team this season. Liverpool was forced to play two games in two days in December. Klopp took the first team, including star men Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane, to Qatar to face Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-finals. Mark Critchley led his Under-23 players into battle against Aston Villa in the League Cup quarter-finals.
Liverpool came up short that night. Villa recorded a resounding 5-0 triumph. But the Reds’ starlets left with their heads held high.
They went one better a few weeks later. A superb strike from Jones gave an under-strength Liverpool side victory over arch-rivals Everton in the third round of the FA Cup. James Milner, Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino all started that match. But so too did Jones, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams, Nathaniel Phillips and Pedro Chirivella.
This is a fantastic sign for Liverpool. Not all those who featured against Shrewsbury will become superstars at Anfield. Many will go on to ply their trade elsewhere. That is simply the nature of modern-day academies.
Nevertheless, there is real hope at Liverpool that some will make the grade. As things stand Jones looks best placed to lead the way. It is not just that the 19-year-old scored the winners against both Everton and Shrewsbury. It is the way he conducted himself throughout the two contests.
The attacking midfielder has proved he has an eye for goal. He is creative too, and he can dictate the tempo of a game in a slightly deeper role. He is also capable of drifting wide and supplying ammunition from the flanks.
Best of all for Liverpool is the fact that they have a world-class manager to oversee the progression of the club’s young talents. Klopp is contracted at Anfield until 2024.
He is unlikely to leave before then. He may even agree to extend his deal beyond the four-and-a-half years that remain. Continuity is an asset for all football clubs, and that is exactly what Klopp gives his current employers.
Liverpool will win the Premier League title this term. They are already 22 points clear of the chasing pack. The Reds are months away from ending an agonizing 30-year wait for a championship crown. And if Liverpool’s young players can maintain their upward trajectory, this may not be a single-season success story.
Last modified: February 8, 2020 2:03 AM UTC