With Liverpool sending out young sides bolstered by a sprinkling of senior players like James Milner, Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana, and Divock Origi for previous rounds of the League Cup, there had been some speculation we might get similar against Aston Villa.
Even with back-to-back games on different continents, players could have participated before heading to Qatar in time for Sunday’s final. Then came news that it would be an all youth side instead. And now, some of those youth players won’t even be there.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us, myself included,” said U23 manager Neil Critchley, who will be given the opportunity to manage his charges—minus Curtis Jones and Neco Williams, at least—against Premier League competition on Tuesday night.
“I’ll be very proud to lead the team out tomorrow night. There’s no better feeling for a coach when the players who are representing you, and you’ve got a relationship with, go and play to their capabilities, and if they do that, that’s where my pride will come from.”
Make no mistake. It may be Liverpool versus Aston Villa on the marquee, but it is the Reds who are firm underdogs—they are, in the context of tomorrow night, the plucky League Two side off to face a Premier League side on the road for a spot in the semi-final.
Expectations will be low, then, and most will be happy if the youngsters manage to make a competitive game of it. Manage to do that, and in the process avoid being on the end of a confidence-sapping drubbing, and they will have done themselves proud.
And, if they can do that—if they can make Critchey and the fans proud by playing to their capabilities—then who knows. They may be underdogs, these Reds, but in the League Cup sometimes the underdogs come out on top and vanquish the favourites.
“From the boys’ point of view, if I would be in their boots I would be excited like hell,” said Jürgen Klopp of the game—and the opportunity it brings. “Of course we took two players away because of our own situation, we needed to have at least 16 players.
“Neco and Curtis, two important players for that team, are now here with us. But apart from that, just give it a proper try. The more experienced players are looking forward to it to watch the game and shout them forward from here.”