Before securing their place in the FA Cup fourth round with a 4-1 win, Liverpool survived a big scare from Aston Villa’s youngsters.
Due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Villans created a hugely impressive display under the leadership of U23 manager Mark Delaney, compelled to name a starting XI composed entirely of players without a first-team appearance to their name.
Louie Barry finishing off a well-worked pass to cancel out Sadio Mane’s early header was enough to see them deservedly level at the break.
But the hour-mark strike by Georginio Wijnaldum served to crack the resistance of the kids and was followed by more goals from Mane and Mohamed Salah that added gloss to the scoreline.
As Mane left for home Curtis Jones’ right-wing cross with just four minutes on the clock, Villa must have been expecting a long night ahead.
Just two great saves from Akos Onodi in quick succession stopped the Reds soon after doubling their lead, the young goalkeeper holding Fabinho’s low shot out before rising to save Mane’s follow-up.
But although they managed to dominate possession as the half wore on, Liverpool hardly had the Villa goal under pressure, and as the hosts made the most of their first true assault, they paid the price.
Before slipping an inch-perfect pass through to Barry, Callum Rowe brilliantly evaded Jordan Henderson deep in midfield, who saw off Rhys Williams’ challenge and created a calm one-on-one finish that belied his tender years.
Liverpool may not have expected to be in such a fight at Villa Park, but reacted after the restart with renewed vigor.
Villa’s exhausted legs were unable to shut him down, and two more goals put the game to bed in the next five minutes.
The first came from Mane, who looped a header up and down into the far corner before Salah reached the corner with a low end on the act.