Opinion: Liverpool youngsters still full of immense promise and potential despite dull Plymouth cup draw

Opinion: Liverpool youngsters still full of immense promise and potential despite dull Plymouth cup draw

Liverpool's youngest ever line-up couldn't find a way past a determined Plymouth Argyle defence at Anfield in the FA Cup third round on Sunday afternoon, but the dull - or "boring" as Jürgen Klopp put it - performance shouldn't be a cause for great concern.

charlie-malam
Charlie Malam

So poor was Liverpool's dull draw with Plymouth Argyle, manager Jürgen Klopp felt it necessary to acknowledge Liverpool supporters for not leaving Anfield after 60 minutes.

And it's hard to argue that Klopp's words weren't a fitting synopsis of a game desperately lacking in real quality - though Plymouth's defensive performance certainly deserves credit and fully merited a replay, as Klopp himself acknowledged.

"They did everything what they had to do to deserve a rematch and now we have it. Yippee," he said, that last line delivered with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

Yet the German also admitted the FA Cup third round draw between Liverpool and Plymouth was "boring" and declared: "It wasn't the most exciting game." 

That was no understatement. But the Reds' drab stalemate was as much a consequence of the hosts handicapping themselves as it was the impressive resilience of Plymouth's back-line.

There were still sparing flashes of promise and momentary flashes of danger that had Plymouth fans in brief panic.

A few insightful Emre Can passes inside the full-back, a few touches, twists and turns of young Ben Woodburn and glimpses of the raw pace and power that suggests Sheyi Ojo can become a real asset to the club in the future.

But unfortunately, flashes were all that they were and none of them amounted to anything serious enough to disturb Plymouth's two banks of four.

Young charges weren't good enough, but Plymouth must receive praise too

Liverpool created far too little throughout, their best chances both inside the first-half. They were too often guilty of running out of patience, too often deciding to try and test the 'keeper from a harmless shooting position outside the box, too often slightly askew in their decision-making, be it trying the pass or not trying the pass.

With a team consisting such youth, including as many as five teenagers, that can happen.

It has to be remembered this squad - at a record-breaking average age of 21 and 296 days - won't have experienced deep-lying defences as often, if ever, as the first-team have. 

But it was always obvious Plymouth, backed by 8,600 away supporters, would come to Merseyside and set up that way - and perhaps that's where much of the disappointment lies.

This team, albeit young and weaker than the regular XI on offer from Klopp, was still good enough to go out and win. Instead, they looked bereft of ideas and ways to find an opening. 

The Pilgrims' approach was hardly a surprising one, though. Midfielder David Fox acknowledged earlier to the Plymouth website that their game plan would be a case "of trying to frustrate" and "trying to stay in the game as long as you can."

Frustrate they did, carrying out manager Derek Adams' game-plan to perfection.

In a similar manner to which even top-flight teams such as Burnley, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion have against Liverpool, Plymouth defended with 10 men behind the ball and restricted the space available to Klopp's young, but gifted, attackers.

Striker Paul Arnold Garita, who had just six touches inside Liverpool's half in the first 45 minutes, was the only one exempt from such rigorous defensive duties. 

The visitors' first attack didn't come until first-half stoppage-time. Truth be told, Loris Karius might as well have kept the seat on the bench that he had occupied in the club's previous five games - so uninvolved he was before the break.

And he was hardly made to prove his worth in the second-half either although Plymouth were brighter going forward. 

Still, the League Two outfit didn't complete a single pass inside the Liverpool box all game and they had just one shot on target throughout - an easily-saved long-range free-kick.

So long were the spells that they spent behind the ball, keeping their concentration, maintaining shape and ensuring a green wall remained between goalkeeper Luke McCormick and the ball - the boisterous away support greeted every pass of one short spell of possession towards the end of the first-half with a chorus of olés.

In the second-half, at the sight of their first shot of the game on 50 minutes - a Jordan Slew effort that fell well, well wide of the mark- the Plymouth end jubilantly chanted: "We've had a shot!" before jokingly adding: "We're just too good for you!" 

And it was the visiting supporters that remained the happier throughout on L4, as Liverpool fans were left to lament the lack of patience and know-how of their young side.

Even the cutting edge of first-team regulars such as Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge - easily Liverpool's most dangerous player despite just a half-an-hour cameo - couldn't break Plymouth's resistance after they came on as second-half substitutes.

Some will criticise Plymouth for their lack of effort in trying and make the game a contest, especially because Liverpool fielded such a youthful and inexperienced side.

Admittedly, there isn't as much romance in this result as there would have been had Adams' Plymouth held Sturridge, Firmino, Lallana and co. at bay for a full 90 minutes - and so the Scottish manager's claim that this was one of the "best defensive performances Anfield has ever seen" loses some authority in that regard.

Yet, Plymouth's motivation was understandable, given this game was worth £500,000 to the club. That's without considering the extra revenue to be made from the replay, which will undoubtedly sell out the 17,800-seater Home Park.

On home soil, they are surely likely to open up a bit more and there is the added factor of the Liverpool players - used to more luxury than the surroundings of the nicknamed 'Theatre of Greens' - having to quieten what will be an even louder Plymouth support in what will be several of these player's first experience of such an away game.

Plymouth will fancy their chances much more at home, and they would be right to.

Adams said it himself, declaring it would be like a "welcome to the real world" for the visitors - although you sense the likes of Kevin Stewart, having played on loan at Cheltenham Town, Swindon Town and Burton Albion and Joe Gomez - who used to play for Charlton Athletic - are well accustomed to the differences between the top-flight and the lower rungs of the Football League ladder.

The result for Liverpool also adds the unnecessary and unwelcome distraction of another fixture in a month in January in which they already faced five more games including two legs of an EFL Cup semi-final with Southampton, a crunch clash away at Manchester United and a potentially decisive lock of horns with title rivals at Chelsea.

Young Reds deserve a second chance, this doesn't mean they're not up to standard

Nevertheless, Klopp will likely stick with the same team he fielded here - and rightly so. Question marks were raised after this performance by some, but it should at least be of encouragement that Liverpool dominated the game in the manner that they did - even if they failed to translate their possession into goals.

Rarely will a side this young ever play again for Liverpool. That's exactly why this particular eleven was younger than any other to have been used in the club's 125 year history. 

This was younger than many of the teams Premier League sides have lined up with in the much-maligned Checkatrade Trophy, designed for the Under-23 squads of top-flight teams.

And Klopp is not the opposite type of manager to field young players for the sake of it. Of course, he took to the second (or even third) string because of the demanding schedule that his first-team squad has endured of late, and will continue to endure for the coming weeks.

But Klopp's decision was also because he's genuinely convinced in the ability of these players. And this is a man with some track record. The encapsulating Borussia Dortmund team he took to the 2013 UEFA Champions League final consisted of seven footballers Klopp signed aged 21 or younger and three Academy products amalgamated into a team capable of playing to his image.

That has to be remembered, and there's a good reason that this generation of Liverpool's Academy is being hailed as the best they have had since the heady days of the 90s and the successes that Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Robbie FowlerMichael Owen and Steve McManaman enjoyed.

This crop of Liverpool players have the opportunity to right their wrongs in the replay and they are fully capable of doing so. They may not have shone here in the first meeting, but the club's young talents shouldn't be written off because of it.

Fans must take a look at the bigger picture. It made complete sense for Liverpool's first-team to be rested, and for the youth to be given an important chance to demonstrate their quality. There are bigger priorities, some on the immediate horizon, than this. 

Further, this one game alone isn't enough to write these particular players off.

Many of them have already showcased the talent that has convinced Klopp that they weren't only worthy of this opportunity, but that they are worth trusting in as first-team deputies. So much so, Klopp isn't expected to recruit reinforcements in the January transfer window - instead trusting the club's youngsters to fill in where necessary.

Ojo provided examples of his explosive talent in the second-half of last term, while Gomez (one of Liverpool's biggest positives on Sunday as he completed the full 90 minutes on his first run-out in 465 days) starred before his first campaign at Anfield was unfortunately curtailed by serious injury in October 2015.

Academy trio Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ovie Ejaria and 17-year-old Woodburn have all made themselves known this season - particularly the latter, now the club's youngest ever goalscorer - in their so-far-successful EFL Cup campaign.

Otherwise, Stewart - whom Klopp and Liverpool turned down a £6 million offer for in the summer - remains a reliable back-up option in the holding midfield role.

He proved his quality here with one notable late contribution, cutting across pacy substitute Craig Tanner with a well-timed tackle to prevent the striker running clear through on goal late on.

All six - and some of the others they joined in Liverpool's youngest ever team - have futures of respective importance at the club, and all should be given another opportunity to impress in Devon. 

The mood around the club may be one of frustration and disappointment (at least for the majority) at the result for the time-being, but the kids can still prove they're alright, they just need the chance. And they'll surely get it down in Plymouth.

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