Aston Villa made short work of an overmatched Liverpool side with a 5-0 win in their Carabao Cup quarterfinal encounter on Tuesday night.
With the senior team on Club World Cup duty in Qatar, Under-23 coach Neil Critchley took charge of the side with Liverpool fielding their youngest team ever with an average age of just under 19-and-a-half.
The young Reds looked dangerous in the opening 10 minutes, but it was the hosts that struck first when Conor Hourihane‘s free kick from the right edge of the penalty area beat Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
And Villa would double the lead against their inexperienced opponents soon after as Ahmed Elmohamady‘s shot took a wicked deflection off Morgan Boyes and floated over Kelleher’s head into the Liverpool goal.
Jonathan Kodjia scored two more before the break off the back of Liverpool defensive miscues, beating Kelleher with a clever little flick before redirecting an El Mohamady cross into goal to make it 4-0 at the half.
The young visitors dug in for the second half and managed a few chances, while only conceding late in the second half to Villa, who are now through to the semifinals.
Despite their inexperience Liverpool’s youngsters acquitted themselves well and matched a Villa side, showing 10 changes from their weekend Premier League defeat by Sheffield United, for much of a game that did not reflect well on the League Cup.
Villa boss Dean Smith said: “We had to be very professional. It was a bit of a weird game, probably the weirdest one I’ve been involved in for a quarterfinal of a major competition.
“They had technically gifted players, were tactically switched on and they made it very difficult for us at times.”
Critchley, whose XI had only 16 first-team appearances between them, thought they’d performed magnificently despite the result.
“We were fantastic from the start, we had a couple of chances from the first whistle,” he said. “We were really unfortunate to concede and find ourselves 2-0 down. It was an incredible night and no one wanted it to end. The support we had was unbelievable.
“The conduct of the Villa players was first class. For Dean Smith and [assistant manager] John Terry to come into our dressing room after the game and say the things they said. They said ‘keep going, good luck’ and wished us the best.
“A moment I will remember and the players will remember for the rest of their lives.”
The other three quarterfinals take place on Wednesday with holders Manchester City at third-tier Oxford United, Manchester United hosting fourth-tier Colchester United and Everton at home to Leicester City.
Liverpool’s senior team faces Monterrey in the semifinal of the Club World Cup on Wednesday with the winner taking on Copa Libertadores winner Flamengo in Saturday’s final.