Football: Young Reds fire blanks

Liverpool's Ben Woodburn showing a pair of quick feet to carve out a chance at goal as the Plymouth defence closes in. The Reds academy product was one of the few bright spots in a game where clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by.
Liverpool's Ben Woodburn showing a pair of quick feet to carve out a chance at goal as the Plymouth defence closes in. The Reds academy product was one of the few bright spots in a game where clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by.PHOTO: REUTERS

Klopp's gamble backfires as Plymouth hold firm for replay in Liverpool's packed calendar

FA CUP

Liverpool 0 Plymouth 0

Forget the supposed magic of the FA Cup, this was an example of the pragmatism of its participants.

Jurgen Klopp decided this was the smallest of Liverpool's three games in the last week and picked the kids. Plymouth Argyle realised this game would earn them £500,000 (S$880,000), a replay could be similarly lucrative, and played for a stalemate yesterday.

Their approach was justified. Klopp's gamble was not. His second-string side were held to a 0-0 draw by opponents from the fourth flight. A rematch next week means Liverpool's already-packed January could now include nine games.

In many ways, that is to Plymouth's credit. They kept the Premier League's top scorers quiet. They passed tests of organisation and concentration. It may yet prove the prelude to one of the FA Cup's great shocks when they reconvene at Home Park.

Their resilience meant a historic occasion for Liverpool did not have the appropriate ending. Klopp named their youngest-ever team - their average age was just 21 years and 296 days, and raised significantly by Lucas Leiva, who turns 30 today.

The German's commitment to youth is genuine, but circumstances influenced his selection. The League Cup semi-final against Southampton and the Premier League meeting with Manchester United took precedence.

However, with half an hour remaining, he had to introduce some experience. Daniel Sturridge came close three times, but each effort was off target. Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana duly followed, but neither brought a breakthrough.

Liverpool came closest through their most junior player. Ben Woodburn had become their youngest scorer in November. He almost doubled his tally, darting clear to prod a shot that Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick blocked.

  • 21.8
    The average age of Liverpool's starting XI against Plymouth was the Reds' youngest ever.

Winger Sheyi Ojo also directed a tame header straight at McCormick, but too many of Liverpool's efforts were taken from distance and went harmlessly wide or over.

Meanwhile, Plymouth were camped around their own box. Their negativity made sense, if not for a spectacle. They maintained their resolve even after losing right-back Gary Miller, who was stretchered off with an oxygen mask.

Another of the back four made his mark in a different way. The centre-back Sonny Bradley took the resistance too far, flicking Emre Can's ear and tickling his armpit. Quite why is another matter.

Yet it highlighted a refusal to be intimidated that their supporters shared. Plymouth brought 8,500 fans even though buses left their Home Park ground at 5am.

They revelled in the occasion, chorusing "we've had a shot" when Jordan Slew mounted their first attempt, even though it nearly hit the corner flag.

They could savour the result, if not the game. Only Manchester United and West Ham had stopped Liverpool from winning at Anfield this season. Plymouth, of League Two, have joined a select band.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Reds youths fire blanks'. Print Edition | Subscribe