Liverpool will face Exeter City at Anfield in a replay after fighting back twice to secure a draw at James Park. Jürgen Klopp responded to the numerous injuries affecting his squad along with two tough Premier League matches against Arsenal and Manchester United next week by naming a very young side. Only Adam Bogdan,José Enrique, and Christian Benteke had any substantial experience at senior level. Enrique—a player with only 9 appearances in all competitions last season—made his first appearance of the campaign at centre back. It was that kind of game.
Although Liverpool's youngsters fought well, they were physically overpowered throughout most of game. The three senior players in the team didn't play well, which made matters more difficult for a largely inexperienced group. Still, it's a learning experience for many making their first competitive appearances for Liverpool, and Klopp is almost certain to pick most of these players again in an attempt to secure victory at Anfield. Only one line-up has been younger
The 48-year-old was entertaining and candid as always after the game with words of praise for his opponents. There was perhaps a little relief in the coaching team after a game that could have potentially been embarrassing for Liverpool even with a youthful line-up. Marlo Stanfield will tell you that names are quite important indeed. Klopp already pinpointed a key battle that his players will need to improve on in the replay.
"It's obvious what we have to learn in the future," Klopp told the BBC. "We have to be more robust. It was a difficult pitch. Exeter did really well. Maybe they know which part of the pitch you can play football. It was really difficult for us today. On one-on-one situations they were more robust than our guys. The first goal was unlucky for us - it was their first attack. I won't say anything about the second goal - they showed it live on the BBC. I can't believe we have to play another game now. You want it like this, so we will be there."
After being involved in quite a funny pre-match interview in Exeter City's small tea room, Klopp once again displayed that no-nonsense charm of his. Liverpool will need to make some additions to the squad this month but will also need to keep the faith at a time when it can be easy to look for excuses. It was a game that felt like a freakish event to be experienced as well as watched wherever you were. By the time Liverpool play Arsenal next Wednesday, virtually the entire team likely to face the league leaders would have had at least a week without a match. The kids played their role in making this happen without a cloud of defeat hanging over the club, and for that, they should be proud.
The youngsters will get another chance to show what they can do, but Klopp mentioned that he will not make definitive judgements at a time when inexperienced Liverpool players have been thrown in to give the remaining members of the senior squad a break. It helps, however, to make an impression on occasions such as the opening tie of the round, so the likes of Cameron Brannagan and Brad Smith can be pleased. On the fringes of the senior squad with a handful of appearances each before the game, the pair showed that there is promise in their boots. Ryan Kent was full of energy and intent in his first competitive appearance for the club. Application was not an issue with any of the fledglings that took to the field, and let's be frank, they all deserved a Klopp hug.
The date of the replay is unconfirmed, but we'll be sure to get to know our youngsters a bit more later this month.