By Umarah Naz.
Remember that one, single week in January that Liverpool had to recuperate from a packed fixture list? Well, it’s been filled.
The Reds were held to a 0-0 draw today in the third round of the FA Cup by a Plymouth Argyle side that offered next to nothing at Anfield. After having made £600,000 for this tie alone, Plymouth backed it up by earning a replay at Home Park to be played a few days after the Premier League game against Manchester United.
Most people thought that it would be a walk in the park for Liverpool and, to some extent, it was. But with no end result.
The two hadn’t met for 55 years and are currently 68 places apart in the footballing pyramid, so Derek Adams’ tactics of sitting deep and defending can’t be met with too much criticism. In fact, his tactics worked perfectly.
He was candid in the post-match interview when he said it would’ve been “naive” for him to tell his players to take Liverpool on at Anfield. Hence, Adams made just the one change for the tie with Gary Miller coming in whilst his counterpart, Jurgen Klopp, made ten changes to his team with Emre Can the only one keeping his place.
The average age of the team was less than 22 years which was the youngest ever fielded, much to Klopp’s surprise, as he quipped when told after the game, “Really? With Lucas?”.
With the small matter of an EFL cup semi-final on Wednesday, Klopp had little choice but to to rotate his players. As he said in his pre-match interview, “fresh legs and fresh minds” were much needed for the game.
The Reds had over 76% of the possession during the game but lacked the edge in the final third. Not for want of trying though. The front three of Ojo, Woodburn and Ejaria had chances to break the deadlock but Plymouth consistently had nine men behind the ball at all times and stifled any goal opportunities.
In the seventeenth minute, Liverpool’s youngest ever goal scorer, Ben Woodburn, was the recipient of the ball in the penalty area, when Can won possession and put him through. Woodburn tried to lift the ball over McCormick but the latter saved his effort.
Just four minutes later, Divock Origi did put the ball in the back of the net but was penalised for climbing on to Gary Millers back, much to Klopp’s distress.
Liverpool found themselves camped in Plymouth’s half but couldn’t get through their disciplined defence. Kevin Stewart tried his luck with a few shots from outside the penalty box and Can’s ball found Trent Alexander-Arnold after an excellent run by the young right-back, but the goalkeeper collected comfortably. Klopp’s men tried to manoeuvre into the tiny spaces through the middle but were forced out wide due to the lack of space.
Plymouth were happy to let Liverpool have the ball and take their chances defending. And it paid off. They rarely made attempts to win the ball back from their opponents, despite occasional screaming from the touch line to press the Reds. All, except Garita, were ensconced in their third of the pitch booting the ball away at every opportunity.
A free-kick for the visitors on 55 minutes reminded the viewers that Loris Karius was alive and kicking after being recalled for the match.
It was looking as though Liverpool would need to call on their bench for some help, and Daniel Sturridge came on in the 63rd minute replacing Emre Can, which clearly got the Anfield crowd going as they greeted the striker with cheers.
His impact was almost instant when his shot was just wide of the Plymouth goal a minute later. Moments later, he sent a lovely ball to Sheyi Ojo who just couldn’t get his feet to it. Minutes earlier, Craig Tanner had a similar effect when he managed to weave his way around Joe Gomez and Lucas Leiva after eventually having his shot blocked by the former.
Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino came on for Ejaria and Woodburn in the 75th minute whilst Gary Miller was stretchered off with suspected ankle ligament damage. Tanner was given another chance when he found himself clean throughout Kevin Stewart rescued Liverpool with a great tackle.
Sturrridge had another shot that just missed the target but not even six minutes of injury time was enough for the home side to make the breakthrough. A 94th minute save from McCormick off his own defenders legs was enough to see out the game for a resilient Plymouth.
Liverpool now face a 600 mile round trip the week beginning the 16th of January to make sure of their participation in the next round of the FA Cup. If Klopp persists with the youngsters, it will at least take the pressure off the first team, but it’s possible he may look to field a slightly stronger team to ensure the Reds smooth progression in the competition. We shall see. And despite his somewhat upbeat mood in the post-match interviews and talk of not being frustrated, it’s just another headache for the boss to deal with.
The positives from the game, however, were that the youth players accumulated some much needed experience and minutes to help them in their development. Klopp’s plan may not have succeeded this time but all is not lost. Plymouth, on the other hand, are rejoicing at having held the mighty Reds to a draw on the hallowed turf of Anfield. They will now relish taking Liverpool on at home and it’s exactly what they deserve.