We love a penalty shootout out, don’t we. Liverpool move into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup after winning their third shootout in just over eight months, this time turning over League One’s Derby County 3-2 after a scoreless draw in regulation time. The customary Kelleher heroics took place, of course, but there was much more to say about a match that on paper may look like not much.
Below, then, we crown the winners and losers on the night.
The Yutes (Generic): Naturally, the narrative surrounding any match in which the participants are separated by 40-something steps on the football ladder will lean towards the all-conquering behemoth of the past five years being expected to easily beat the team that was relegated due to financial crisis less than six months ago.
The reality, of course, was that despite the kits on display, the Liverpool side that started tonight’s match consisted of 55% teenagers, a trio of backups who had played a total of 77 minutes between them this season, and two legitimate first team contenders.
As such, it was rather impressive how the very young Reds were able to control a match against a team of genuine professionals, and, despite the lack of the necessary pace, dynamism and cutting edge up top to convert their overall performance into telling moments in front of goal, were never really in trouble at the other end either.
It may have taken some first teamers stepping in at the end, and some goalkeeping heroics to wrap it up, but the advancement to the next round happened on the back of a quality performance from a bunch of Liverpool kids, and that is both very encouraging and something one should not take for granted just because of the colour of their shirt.
The Yutes (Specific): Just gonna go ahead and list them.
Calvin Ramsay looks like a tremendous piece of scouting. Sporting a wonderful athletic frame and great quickness for a player his size, the 18-year old is the archetypal modern fullback, equally comfortable overlapping as he is cutting inside, picking a variety of crossed deliveries and cutbacks with either foot depending on the circumstance, while offering enough of a physical presence to handle himself against senior attackers.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a fairly singular talent in world football and along with the uncertainty of player development represents the largest hurdle to Ramsay every locking down a starting spot at Liverpool, but the Scot showed tonight exactly why the Reds picked him up, and that he can provide legitimate cover for Trent sooner than many may have thought.
Stefan Bajcetic continues to show why the coaching staff at Anfield loves him so much. The weight of pass isn’t always there yet, and he has physical limitations that will continue to matter until he fills out his frame, but the 18-year old just looks like a footballer. The pace of his play, the way he shapes his body to receive or pass or deceive, and the way his head is constantly swiveling just screams Cultured Midfielder, and if his development continues down its current path, it’s difficult to see a future in which the Spaniard isn’t a contributor on Merseyside.
Ben Doak was spectacular. Sure, he stumbled and sliced his first shot miles wide from six yards out, but in 20 minutes on the pitch, the 16-year old completed more dribbles than any other player on the pitch, fully half of Liverpool’s successful attempts, and one fewer than the entire Derby team. The former Celtic starlet gave Derby fullback Louie Sibley absolute fits for every minute of his cameo, taking the shape of his performances with the youth teams into the senior world with gusto. An instant fan favourite and definitely one to look out for in the immediate and long-term future.
Harvey Elliott is barely even considered a yute anymore, given that he makes the starting XI more often than not for Jürgen Klopp, but it is important to remember that the Starboy is still only 19 years old. He scored the decisive penalty, of course, coolly slotting into the bottom corner after sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to win it for the Reds, but before that, he had been the catalyst for Liverpool’s late effort to finish things off in regulation time.
Drifting between central midfield, right wing and attacking midfield, Elliott was at the heart of everything the Reds succeeded at after his introduction — he racked up 46 touches in 30 minutes, a ridiculous number for a non-defender — finding space, driving at goal, setting up intricate triangles or big switches, and even getting into the box, where he really should have wrapped things up after receiving the ball 12 yards out but failed to place his first-time effort out of Wildsmith’s reach.
19-year olds just playing for top European teams is not as common as many seem to believe, and Harvey Elliott is one of the five or six most gifted teenagers in world football. Red to his core as well. Love that for us.
Big Kells: Best cup keeper on the planet? You decide.
More penalty shootout saves than any Liverpool goalkeeper in history too. And when push comes to shove, he scores them as well.
Shrug emoji: Nobody, really. Some of the less heralded youngsters were unable to impact the game as much as they would have wanted, and sure it would have been nice to get a win in regulation time, but, honestly, this is the sort of low-stakes game that is just fun to watch and in the end they pulled out the win, so who cares.
What Happens Next
The final game of the fall season before the reprehensible debacle that is the winter World Cup in Qatar takes place on Saturday, where Liverpool will host 18th-placed Southampton and their newly appointed manager Nathan Jones, representing an opportunity for the Reds to go into the extended winter break with something resembling a positive feeling after what has been an at times calamitous start to the season.