Minutes have been hard to come by for those on the fringes of Liverpool's first team, with Brendan Rodgers showing little affection for using all of his substitutions, and even less for rotating his squad even in the midst of the crowded holiday calendar. So the FA Cup was supposed to be a chance for the also-rans, and the six changes made from the New Year's Day win over Hull appeared to indicate as much.
For most the appearance of Luis Alberto in the starting eleven was the most exciting, but both Iago Aspas and Victor Moses got chances in their preferred roles, with Kolo Toure and Brad Jones also coming in at the back to give Liverpool a far different look than we've become accustomed to. And, while visual evidence was unavailable for everyone other than those in attendance, it sounded as though it was a mixed bag, with Toure and Jones unbothered in defense as Aspas, Moses, and Alberto produced little cutting edge going forward.
And yet Alberto sounded the brightest of the half along with Jordan Henderson, making it somewhat surprising when the young Spanish midfielder was hauled off at half-time along with Moses. The Chelsea loanee has seen his form drop considerably since his first few weeks at the club, but Alberto's shown signs of promise whenever he's popped up and reportedly produced a number of decent moments this afternoon, making his substitution both surprising and disappointing.
According to his manager, the decision was made with a view to increasing Liverpool's control on the match:
"We needed to be better. We needed to have more speed in our game and have a bit more intensity to our game. You don't want to do it, but the last thing I wanted was the game to go into extra-time. You hope in a game like this to rest a number of players and give them that recovery period. Lucas and young Coutinho, and a few others, have played hard games all over the Christmas period. The ideal scenario was to let them recover, but we also wanted to win the game.
"We didn't want a replay, we wanted to get through into the next round. The second half was better, we were more lively in our game and ended up with a good victory. I think you learn as a manger as you get more experience - you can't wait for it to happen. You've got to create it and sometimes you have to change the momentum. And with Coutinho and Lucas coming on, we had that bit of intensity and purpose to our game. That allowed us to get better control."
It's hard to argue that the moves didn't pay off. Liverpool started the second half on the front foot and took the lead just ten minutes after the restart, and while Oldham had a threatening spell late, Liverpool were able to see the match off. Lucas allowed for increased midfield control, while Coutinho has proven a far more effective option--even with a mildly frustrating shoot on sight approach of late--from the flank than Moses.
This shouldn't have much bearing on Alberto's future, as both young enough and promising enough to be given continued opportunities, but for Moses it's sign that unless he makes drastic improvements, his loan move has become little more than a waiting game until May.