A clinical second-half display from Liverpool’s first team squad proved enough to eventually see off Aston Villa’s gutsy young side.
In a match that had been the victim of a Coronavirus outbreak for the home side, Villa’s entire first team and manager Dean Smith were all required to self-isolate.
Upon receiving negative Covid tests, stand in manager Mark Delaney and the under 23s were all cleared to play and the game was safely given the go ahead.
Many FA Cup third-round matches had been impacted by Coronavirus outbreaks at clubs such as Newcastle and Derby, and faced being postponed.
With a congested season of fixtures this was not something either Liverpool or Villa wanted going into the game.
Jurgen Klopp’s team didn’t take long to get into their stride as a fine passing move culminated with the impressive homegrown talent Curtis Jones whipping the ball in from the right for striker Sadio Mane to stoop home after only four minutes.
Liverpool nearly doubled their lead as they piled forward only for makeshift centre-back Fabinho to draw a fine from Hungarian stopper Ákos Onódi, who then flicked Mane’s rebounded effort onto the post.
7-times FA Cup winners Villa stunned the visitors to equalise on the stroke of half time, as 17-year-old Louie Barry sprinted away and shrugged off Liverpool defender Rhys Williams, to bury the ball into the bottom corner leaving Caoimhin Kelleher with no chance.
Barry had spent a few months at Barcelona and his finish was sublime and worthy of the La Masia academy name.
Just as though it seemed an upset was brewing at Villa Park, the champions came alive in the second-half as Egyptian Mo Salah flicked the ball into the net, only to be denied for obstruction on Onódi.
They weren’t to be denied though as a fine passing move between Salah and Takumi Minamino saw popular Dutchman Georginio Wijnaldum place the ball into the bottom corner with pinpoint accuracy to put his side 2-1 up.
Liverpool then turned the screw as midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri stepped off the bench on the hour mark to provide a virtuoso display.
The Swiss teed up Mane with a dinked ball into the box for the Senegalese to score his second of the game with a classy looped finish.
Salah then got the goal his hard-working performance deserved as Shaqiri laid on another assist, as the Egyptian swivelled and slotted in to put the game beyond doubt.
Spaniard Thiago Alcântara, pulling the strings in midfield, nearly got his first goal for the club but for his 20-yard blockbuster to be flicked onto the bar by the impressive Onódi.
The 4-1 win, albeit against Villa’s young stars provides Liverpool with a vital morale boost and cracks a three-game winless run.
Klopp’s players now have over a week to prepare for the top of the table clash and visit of long-time rivals Manchester United to Anfield on Sunday 17th January.
Klopp surprised Liverpool fans and the neutral with a strong team selection. It was clear that he wanted to get his side back to winning ways, and the only way to assure this was by turning to his stalwarts.
The likes of captain Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Mane and Salah were trusted to get the result he needed.
That said, Villa’s band of youth were not to be intimidated and perhaps Liverpool underestimated them a bit in that first half.
Luckily, Liverpool’s first teamers’ energy reserves pulled them through as they stepped on the gas and got the goals they needed.
Credit to Villa whose youth team maybe lacked the same fitness and stamina, but they more than held their own for a good hour of the game.
After only winning twice in their last six games, form that Klopp admitted in his pre-match press conference was not good enough for his team’s high standards, it was vital his side won.
Notably midfielder Shaqiri had a fantastic game which will hopefully put him in the picture for the game against United. Two seasons ago he contributed two stunning goals in a 3-1 Anfield demolition that gave José Mourinho the sack.
Mane and Salah have been out of form of late and the goals should give them the confidence they need to get the team back on track.
Now Liverpool can look forward to the challenge of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side and aim to get back to winning ways in the Premier League.