Liverpool survive scare from virus-hit Villa in FA Cup
Liverpool's Sadio Mane (center) scores his side's first goal during the FA Cup third round soccer match against Aston Villa at Villa Park stadium in Birmingham, England on Friday.
AFP, London :
Liverpool survived a scare from coronavirus-ravaged Aston Villa to reach the FA Cup fourth round with a 4-1 win against opponents missing their entire first-team squad as the pandemic wreaks havoc on English football.
Villa fielded a raw side comprised entirely of youth academy players and were without boss Dean Smith after being hit hard by a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this week.
In all, 14 unnamed Villa employees - nine players and five staff - have tested positive, forcing the Premier League club to close their training base on Thursday because of the outbreak.
Liverpool played a strong side for the third round tie at Villa Park, but Villa's youngsters acquitted themselves well.
Four of Villa's starting line-up weren't even born when Liverpool midfielder James Milner made his professional debut for Leeds in 2002.
But they gave Liverpool a shock when Louie Barry cancelled out Sadio Mane's opener.
Eventually, the Premier League champions' class told with a blitz of three goals in five minutes in the second half. Georginio Wijnaldum struck before Mane and Mohamed Salah sealed a first win in four games in all competitions for Jurgen Klopp's side.
"The kids did really well," Klopp said. "We had problems in passing and moving. Too many on the wrong side of the ball, not enough recoveries of passes. "We had chances and shot directly at the goalie. It was rusty but better in the second half. We have a lot players with no rhythm."
Mark Delaney, the Villa Under-23 coach deputising for Smith, added: "We are all very proud as a club, as coaches and players. That was a monumental effort considering what the players have had to go through."
That Villa, whose team had an average age of 18 and 294 days, ended the night with their heads held high was all the more remarkable given their CEO Christian Purslow's frank pre-match assessment.
"Our experience of this situation in the past two days has been a frightening scenario because we went from 100 percent negative on 1 January to 14 cases," Purslow told BT Sport.
"Many of the players tonight are so young their mums and dads will be dropping them off at Villa Park."