Tomorrow, Liverpool face Shrewsbury Town in their fourth round FA Cup replay at Anfield. On paper, on the fixture list, and in the media it will be listed as a first team game. In reality, it will be Liverpool’s U23s taking on the League One side.
“It’s incredible, really,” said U23 boss Neil Critchley of being asked to take charge of his second cup tie of the season after previously leading out his youth charges against Aston Villa in the League Cup while the senior stars were at the Club World Cup.
“I never thought it would happen, let alone twice, but I’m looking forward to a special night where the young players will be given a unique opportunity. I hope they can play in many ways like at Villa—but hopefully make more of a game of it.”
English football purists and fans of lower league clubs have joined together to wring their hands about Liverpool sending out a U23 side with their U23 manager, but at the end of the day the only fault can lie with the FA and the Premier League.
Both have known, ever since the league wisely if belatedly decided to establish a winter break and then asked that clubs not schedule any matches for their players during it, that an FA Cup replay could fall during that break.
More broadly, given the fixture congestion that faces top English sides with European and league commitments plus a pair of domestic cups—something no top teams in other leagues have to deal with—having FA Cup replays at all is faintly ridiculous.
So too the two-legged League Cup semi-final. Those purists and fans of lower league clubs can complain all they want, but as it stands it’s a situation that is detrimental to the players, and Jürgen Klopp is right to make a stand.
On paper, on the fixture list, and in the media it will be listed as a first team game. In reality, it is Liverpool’s U23s taking on Shrewsburry. As it should be. Now, though one imagines they won’t, the FA should do the right thing and eliminate replays.
“You can never be quite sure what the young players will produce as they’re still learning the game, but that’s the beauty of it,” Critchley added. “We’ll be facing experienced players, so I’m interested to see how our young players will do.”