Commentary

Liverpool kids show up Ancelotti's false dawn

Jurgen Klopp had hinted he might be daring with his FA Cup team selection, and with nine changes and a handful of debuts, the Liverpool manager did not disappoint on Sunday night.

The question before kick-off at Anfield was whether the coolest manager in the Premier League had really picked a side to ramp up the pressure on Everton even more, by presenting them with callow opposition they ostensibly ought to beat, or whether Klopp was simply interested in avoiding a replay.

Carlo Ancelotti's comments pre-match that Everton's performance would have to be perfect was based on the assumption they would be facing the world champions and runaway league leaders, not an assortment of teenagers and reserves who lost a father figure in James Milner after a mere six minutes.

On this evidence, though, it must be admitted that behind Liverpool's extremely settled and successful first team is a raft of hugely impressive talent on the way up.

New signing Takumi Minamino is not your average rookie in search of experience, Neco Williams looked as if he had been playing at this level all season and when Yasser Larouci came on for the injured Milner, he looked even more composed and confident on the left.

The icing on the cake was a wonderfully assured winner from Curtis Jones, an 18-year-old Scouser.

There were no Liverpool-born players in the Everton team, and maybe there should have been, but Sunday showed that the local production line does not stop at marauding full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Not only did Jones beat England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford with a perfectly executed curler from the edge of the area, he also clearly had a picture in his mind of exactly what he wanted to do on the pitch.

Whether the same can now be said of Ancelotti after this reality check is debatable.

Even before the Jones moment, it had been a sub-par Everton display, otherwise the visitors might have been two or three up at half-time.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been the poster boy for the Toffees' revival since the departure of Marco Silva, yet he needed to be stronger and sharper here, if only because he will not get that many opportunities to play against a Liverpool defence lacking Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk.

On this evidence, though, it must be admitted that behind Liverpool's extremely settled and successful first team is a raft of hugely impressive talent on the way up.

Mason Holgate might have been guilty of missing the best chance of the evening, though as a defender, he has a ready-made excuse.

Calvert-Lewin has been bullied on occasion by van Dijk this season and probably imagined he would be in for another bruising encounter in the Cup tie, but given an unexpected amount of freedom, he was unable to show the sort of incisiveness Ancelotti will have been looking for.

Everton were left to regret their first-half profligacy as Liverpool stepped up their efforts and kept them pinned back after the break.

They were unable to manage a second-half shot on target, and when Theo Walcott squandered a promising situation with an awful pass just before Liverpool scored, it was easy to see why.

If some of Walcott's first-half efforts had got the rewards they deserved, he might have been the game's decisive figure.

Instead that honour falls jointly to Jones for his goal and Klopp for his nerve, though when you have squad resources this good at your disposal, it would be remiss not to use them.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Liverpool kids show up Ancelotti's false dawn'. Print Edition | Subscribe