When the biographers and historians start crafting a narrative for Liverpool’s 2019/20 season, this is surely one of the weeks that will play a large part in telling the story of a thus far remarkable season?
Liverpool face Premier League Aston Villa in the quarter-final of the League Cup at what will be a packed-out Villa Park, but instead of Jurgen Klopp facing the nation’s media 24 hours earlier, here was Neil Critchley – a virtual unknown outside the walls of Melwood – preparing to lead a scratch side into the lion’s den.
This is of course, a result of the Reds becoming victims of their own success. The entire first-team squad is already in Qatar, preparing to face Mexican side CF Monterrey on Wednesday evening, forcing Liverpool to field what will probably be the most youthful Liverpool side ever to play in a first team match against Villa on Tuesday evening.
With Klopp’s priority clearly the World Club Championship, Under-23s boss Critchley will be in the dugout and he faced a sparsely-populated press room on Monday morning to share his thoughts on it.
“I’m not used to this many people,” quipped Critchley, who was quickly reminded that most of the usual attendees were absent, so he had got off lightly.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us, myself included. I’ll be very proud to lead the team out tomorrow night, but the pride I will have will come from the player’s playing to what they are capable of.
“When you see the players every day and you’ve worked with them for a number of years, when I stand on the touchline tomorrow night I will be immensely proud of the players who take to that pitch and I hope we go and play how I know they are capable of playing.”
Having initially named a 23-man squad to take to Qatar, Liverpool’s first team flew out with only 20 on board, meaning that there is still a possibility some of the youngsters involved in the Villa clash could dramatically find themselves in the Middle East a day later.
Critchley said: “I believe there’s a flight waiting. It might depend how they play in the game. We shall see. I think one or two might take that journey, I might try and sneak on the plane myself.
“I’m sure one or two will go. We shall see what happens in the game and see who gets the call after.”
Two youth prospects already involved are Curtis Jones and Neco Williams, who were already named in Klopp’s squad of 20, bolstering the German’s options if somewhat weakening Critchley’s.
Nevertheless, the stand-in first-team manager recognises what an experience it will be for Jones and Williams and wouldn’t rule either out playing a part in proceedings.
— Richard Garnett (@garnster) December 16, 2019
“For two 18-year-olds to go to the Club World Championship – that doesn’t happen every day of your life does it?,” he said.
“You’ve only got to see the squad that’s travelled, count the names and you can see that they’ve got a chance of being on the bench and if they are, as the manager proved by bringing on Curtis last week against Bournemouth, they’ve got a chance of getting on the pitch. Fingers crossed they do because what an occasion that would be for them.”
Thanks to five months of unparalleled success, Liverpool continue to fight on five fronts, but their sternest examination will be effectively be delegated to a team of kids in front of a packed Villa Park on Tuesday night.
If they somehow get beyond that test, it will be one of the most remarkable results in the club’s illustrious history in the same week that they could become world champions for the first time.
Who could’ve scripted that at the start of the season?
By Richard Garnett
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