Liverpool 1 Lucas 19'
In another dull and ponderous match, the least Brazilian of Brazilian footballers provided the least Brazilian of goals to drag the Reds through to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Jürgen Klopp understandably went big with the changes again, making nine changes from the side that drew with Manchester United on the weekend, fielding another inexperienced side, albeit not quite as young as the record-setting team that faced Plymouth in the first leg at Anfield. Loris Karius returned in goal, behind a backline of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Lucas Leiva and Alberto Moreno. Kevin Stewart and Ovie Ejaria made up a double pivot of sorts, while Philippe Coutinho, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge and Ben Woodburn took up attacking positions, although the exact formation was difficult to extract from how they positioned themselves throughout the game.
Up until the eventual game-winner in the eighteenth minute, not much happened. The Reds passed the ball around the Plymouth box and took terrible pot-shots, while Sturridge took a tumble and called weakly for a penalty. On the first corner of the game, Coutinho placed a delightful curler onto the forehead of an onrushing Lucas, and the former attacking midfielder from Grêmio bulleted the ball home at the near post. It was the Brazilian's first goal for Liverpool since 2010, 2317 days and three managers ago. Not a single other player currently at the club was around the last time captain on the night scored a goal. One-nil up and the chance to counter against opposition three divisions down? This looked promising for the visitors.
No counters happened, however, and with the exception of two Alexander-Arnold passes nearly finding Sturridge — the first one off a gorgeous lob from Coutinho, the second after a scramble in the Plymouth box — the Reds produced not a single piece of telling offense in the remainder of the first half. The hosts went close on the half-hour mark, as Moreno and Lucas both sold out on their tackles and Gomez failed to get in the way of the cross, but Alexander-Arnold tracked Paul Arnold Garita and got a foot to the ball, clearing it for a corner.
The first twenty minutes of the second half was more of the same, as ineffective possession failed to create opportunities, and Plymouth were unable to take advantage. Coutinho was replaced by debutant Harry Wilson, and the Welshman nearly made it two as he closed down a backpass to Luke McCormick, who cleared the ball straight at the youngster. Luckily for the Argyle stopper, the ball rebounded harmlessly over his bar. Two minutes later, a one-two between Origi and Sturridge saw the latter presented with an opportunity, but his shot was well saved by McCormick.
Some absolutely preposterous set-piece defending later, Jake Jervis volleyed off the Liverpool post following Sonny Bradley using Gomez as a ladder, but even this close call failed to wake the Reds from their slumber. Sturridge was replaced by Sheyi Ojo, and Ojo was ridiculously booked for simulation after a Plymouth defender made clear contact when the youngster went past. Soon after, Ojo found himself in front of goal at the end of a Woodburn and Wilson counter, but his shot failed to trouble the Plymouth goalkeeper.
The referee continued his unconventional showing by calling a penalty for a tackle on Moreno. Yann Songo'o — son of goalkeeping legend Jacques Songo'o — was most definitely late, but Moreno had already crossed the ball out of bounds, and although it would definitely be a foul anywhere else on the pitch, referees are often loath to call penalties in situations such as these.
It would make no difference to the end result, however, as Origi's penalty was one of the worst you'll see, low and central and straight at the goalkeeper. The Belgian nearly made amends minutes later, as he expertly brought the ball down and turned both his markers, but his left-footed effort was blasted narrowly over. Four nervy minutes of injury time, and the Reds were through to the fourth round.
Not one to write home about, this, and beyond Lucas scoring — which should warrant an international holiday — and a few youngsters getting first team minutes under their belt, this'll be a game to forget. Karius again displayed issues in dealing with crosses, Moreno remains too unrestrained for the demands of his position, and Kevin Stewart still can't pass. Origi and Sturridge were impotent up front, and neither Ejaria or Woodburn had much impact overall. However, Coutinho continues to pick up minutes and match fitness, the rest of the first team got the night off, and there was no call for draining extra time or penalties.
An Anfield date with Wolverhampton Wanderers in ten days time is next for the Reds in the FA Cup, but first they must prepare for a lunchtime kickoff with Premier League bottom-dwellers Swansea on Saturday. Fingers crossed they won't need Lucas to bail them out again.