It briefly looked like a (hilariously?) frustrating day, but thankfully when Liverpool needed to turn it on this time out they did so, turning possession into goals in the second half. Perhaps somewhat ironically given the strength of the manager’s starting XI, Jürgen Klopp’s first three substitutions were major difference-makers as the Reds left Villa Park victorious (!!) and are on to the next round (!!!) of a domestic cup competition (!!!).
Below, I dig a bit deeper into the magic of tonight’s FA Cup victory.
Klopp’s decision-making — and squad depth: We (and by “we” I do mean Twitter) can debate the starting XI, particularly as a failure to score loads early coupled with the mistake that led to their goal, but we cannot argue with his substitutions.
Jürgen Klopp acted decisively to bring on Thiago for captain Jordan Henderson at the half, and brought on Xherdan Shaqiri and Roberto Firmino just after Gini Wijnaldum scored Liverpool’s second. All three substitutes drastically improved the performance, adding composure and creativity in the midfield along with movement and decisiveness in the final third. That we can take off first team players like Henderson and bring on Thiago speaks volumes for our current squad depth, as players slowly return from injury.
Klopp’s men got the win and now have nine (9!) days to train and prepare for their next match — enough time to take a breath and attack the league with all they can muster.
Thiago. He’s quite good, isn’t he? Can certainly pick a pass. You can’t really get the ball off him. He’s the type of player who gets on a pitch and you just want to watch him forever. If he can stay fit for the rest of the season he could make a real difference in what this side accomplishes.
He played 55 accurate passes in his 45 minutes on the pitch with 83% success. Four of his passes were long balls, and while this seems like a small number, the quality of vision in his passing gives these balls makes up somewhat for the absence of Virgil Van Dijk, whose ability to pick out Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, especially, adds to Liverpool’s attack. Having Thiago in the midfield takes the onus off of the fullbacks in terms of attacking creation, which will hopefully lead to more stability and creativity.
Jordan Henderson and Takumi Minamino: This feels (and is) a bit too harsh, as Minamino didn’t play terribly by any stretch and Henderson did pick up from an almost anonymous start to play some promising balls in to Salah, especially by the end of the half. That said, though, you never want to be the player who’s taken off to see your replacement have an immediate and important impact.
Thiago came on to start the second half and was immediately everything that was lacking in the first: always available as an out ball, making smart decisions in possession and picking out smart passes. While Minamino would have wanted to use this start to earn more minutes in a way Henderson (who might frankly need a rest) would not have been aiming for, both players would have hoped to do more with the time they had on the pitch.
I won’t delve too much into our negatives, though; the FA Cup is meant to be fun, isn’t it? And it was.
Aston Villa’s U18s Had a Night to Remember
Though they clearly tired over the full ninety minutes (I think there were about five of them down with cramp at one point), you cannot have watched that match without feeling as though Aston Villa’s future is in capable hands. Mark Delaney coached a defensively well-drilled side who deserved to go into the break on even terms, and who should be proud of their effort despite the eventual scoreline.
Goalkeeper Ákos Onódi had a standout night, making a total of eight saves (six from shots inside the box) and keeping his side in the match, and his defensive line, too, deserve plaudits. Striker Louie Barry also had a night to remember, scoring a composed finish to bring his side level in the first half. After initially trading shirts with Fabinho, his coaches reminded him that he might want to keep his shirt (it was his debut and he did score, after all), and he subsequently rushed back to Fabinho to take his shirt back. The boyhood Villa fan grew up just six miles from Villa Park, and his goal — and the jersey antics afterward — maybe remind us of the magic of the FA Cup after all.
What Happens Next
On Sunday afternoon we can all tune in and watch José Mourinho’s Tottenham take on Merseyside minnows Marine A.F.C., who currently play in the Northern Premier League — a tie that is very much what the FA Cup is all about. We have time to watch it since the Reds aren’t back in action until January 17th. Take a breath.