Jurgen Klopp faced some negative comments in the media this week after his decision to honour the Premier League’s winter break and play Liverpool’s youngest ever starting eleven for their FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury.
Former Reds striker Peter Crouch described his decision to let U23 coach Neil Critchley take charge as: “A little bit disrespectful to the League One team.” However, after securing a 1-0 victory, the German manager’s decision was vindicated, and it could have been a masterstroke.
Firstly, the team made up entirely of youth players, with an average age of 19 years and 102 days, were led out by a familiar face in Critchley. While it may have been odd for onlookers to see Liverpool guided by a different figure to Klopp, for the majority of the side that started the replay against Shrewsbury Town, the U23 coach is the face they are most used to seeing on the touchline.
Having the same guidance as they would in youth competitions could have been beneficial for most players, as Critchley will likely have a better understanding of the U23’s abilities than the first team manager. Meanwhile, Klopp made contact with the squad at both half and full time, which suggests he was not entirely neglecting the fixture.
Furthermore, several players gained an experience they may not have been afforded if the inaugural Premier League winter break was not introduced this season. Neco Williams described the occasion as a night his teammates would remember for: “A long time.” While Curtis Jones, Liverpool’s youngest captain in history at 19 years and five days, had an experience he may not have expected so early on in his career. His post-match comments showed maturity beyond his age saying: “I was grateful to become the youngest captain of the team by most importantly, we came away with the win.”
Additionally, Klopp may have helped to inspire a winning performance from his youthful side in a message before the game by suggesting that “Chelsea away could be an opportunity for one or two of them.” Despite not being there in person his words worked, and one or two will be hoping he stays true to them when the Reds visit Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup fifth round.