Liverpool Under-23s coach Neil Critchley will take charge of a youthful Reds side for their FA Cup fourth-round replay at home to League One Shrewsbury after manager Jurgen Klopp gave his first-teamers a week off for their scheduled mid-season break.
Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at the game and the issues surrounding it.
Klopp on his own personal absence for the FA Cup replay v @shrewsweb: "Could I be here for the game? Of course I could but that would be a complete misunderstanding of management and coaching. pic.twitter.com/ziIA3GJdW9— Carl Markham (@carlmarkham) January 28, 2020
The Liverpool manager has been a long-time, outspoken critic of a packed fixture schedule and the impact it has on players. Last month Klopp said he would be viewed as ‘the moaner from Liverpool’ after saying talking about fixture congestion was “the biggest waste of time ever”. His first team have played 39 matches this season, including the European Super Cup final in Istanbul and the Club World Cup in Qatar, and have 13 more remaining in the Premier League, with the Champions League starting up again in a fortnight. Having been given a winter break, and urged to respect it by the Premier League, he is making a stand. And it is not unexpected as he gave forewarning on January 17, saying: “All these different games to play and no break for the players but if you have that break don’t make a replay in this break. This would help massively.”
The under-23s coach came to wider public attention in December when he was put in charge of a youthful side to play the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Aston Villa 24 hours before the first team played in Doha. Critchley, a former junior player at Crewe, moved to Liverpool in September 2013 having been academy director at the Alex for six years. Working in the Reds’ academy, he took charge of the Under-18s until stepping up to the Under-23s in 2017 to allow former midfielder Steven Gerrard to begin his coaching career with the younger players. Critchley was also handpicked by the Football Association to take UEFA’s first elite badge course and one of the highest-graded coaches in Europe.
Because of the furore surrounding Klopp’s decision, Liverpool have barely been spoken about in terms of the outcome of the game. So have they been written off? “Have we?,” said Critchley. “Not us, not inwardly, we’re talking about how we can do well and the things that we’re going to need to do well to give ourselves an opportunity of being in the game. People say (it will be) an under-23 team but we’re not, we’re going to be under-19, under-20 at best. Is there maybe more pressure now on Shrewsbury to win the game because of the team that we have out? Possibly. But that might work in our favour.”
Ironically, a number of the youngsters have been the best performers in the FA Cup this season and five of the side who started against Shrewsbury are likely to be in the XI for the replay. Toxteth-born 19-year-old Curtis Jones has scored in both matches, including a brilliant winner against Everton, and has made seven first-team appearances. Pedro Chirivella, 22, is another who has impressed in the FA Cup, while Harvey Elliott, the 16-year-old summer signing from Fulham, Wales youth international Neco Williams and Yasser Larouci – providing he passes a late fitness test – will meet the Shrews again. Midfielder Leighton Clarkson, 18, who travelled to Shropshire but did not make the final squad, is also likely to play. Another summer arrival, 18-year-old Sepp Van Den Berg, who came from PEC Zwolle, will play in central defence along with another Dutchman Ki-Jana Hoever, who also has some first-team experience. Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, 21, has made three Carabao Cup appearances for the club this season. Striker Joe Hardy, who only joined from Brentford last month, looks likely to play up front.