It is perhaps no surprise English Premier League leaders Liverpool recorded another victory Tuesday – but the fact it was achieved with manager Jurgen Klopp and the club’s star players controversially on holiday has raised eyebrows.
Many of Liverpool’s players flew off to sunnier climates after the weekend league win over Southampton to make the most of the first EPL winter break – Fabinho and Firmino jetted off with their families to the Maldives, Georginio Wijnaldum has been in Dubai, while Adam Lallana relaxed in Miami.
But most contentious of all was the non-attendance of Klopp at Anfield for the FA Cup tie, with Under-23 manager Neil Critchley taking charge of the youngest team in Liverpool’s history as it beat Shrewsbury Town 1-0 to set up a fifth-round clash against Chelsea.
Though the match wasn’t broadcast live on UK television, the club had made it possible for Klopp – who said he was making a stand against fixture congestion in English football – to watch it on a laptop connected to LFC TV’s live feed.
The German would not have been the only one watching remotely, with senior squad goalkeeper Adrian posting a picture on Twitter of him watching online.
Klopp’s decision to rest his senior players as they aim to win the club’s first league title in 30 years and retain the European Cup was vindicated by the result, however.
The lively encounter at a sold-out Anfield was settled after Ro-Shaun Williams headed into his own net after Neco Williams’ long ball into the Shrewsbury box.
Shrewsbury, which plays in the third tier of English football and forced a replay after a shock 2-2 draw last month, had a goal ruled out by the video assistant referee at the start of the second half.
But Liverpool’s young guns created most of the game’s chances – recording 12 shots to their opponent’s three – and were deserving of the victory.
“Obviously with young players you’re never quite sure, but I have to say from the first whistle the maturity those young boys showed to play that game was remarkable,” Critchley, who also oversaw a youthful LIverpool team in a 5-0 League Cup defeat by Aston Villa earlier in the season, told the club website.
“They actually calmed me on the side and I think over 90 minutes we had the better chances and were just about the deserved winners on the night.”
Critchley added that regular first team manager Klopp had been in touch with advice throughout the day, while veteran midfielder James Milner watched on from the sidelines.
The English Football Association has been criticized for scheduling FA Cup replays during the winter break, with Liverpool fan and YouTube presenter Paul Machin telling CNN Sport Tuesday that the competition was being “mismanaged,” encouraging bigger teams not to take it seriously.
The FA, however, defended its position.
“Prior to the start of the 2019/20 season, all clubs accepted that FA Cup fourth round replays, where required, would have to take place during the first week of the mid-season player break,” it told CNN in a statement.
The Reds next face a trip to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup having given their youngsters the chance to experience a 50,000-strong crowd at Anfield.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the pitch when the first team have scored, I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the bench and as a fan you know how loud it gets,” captain Jones told the club website.
“As I said it was an amazing feeling to captain the boys, but I think the most important thing is that we came away with a win and now we can have our break and look forward to the next round against Chelsea.”