A young Liverpool side slipped to a first domestic defeat of the season at Aston Villa as the hosts strolled to a 5-0 victory in their Carabao Cup quarter-final clash on Tuesday night.
With the senior squad thousands of miles away in Qatar getting ready for their Club World Cup opener, it was left to the youngest-ever Liverpool starting XI to shock Villa at Villa Park, but after a positive start, two freak goals saw the visitors 2-0 down inside 17 minutes.
Liverpool continued to impress in attack, but at the back, they looked vulnerable, and Jonathan Kodjia capitalised on further slack defending to score his first Villa goal since May to make it three in the 37th minute, before slotting home his second just before half time.
After the break, the youngsters more than held their own but Wesley added a late fifth as Villa cruised through to the League Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2012/13.
Liverpool named five debutants in a side with an average age of 19 years and 182 days, but Villa also rang the changes, with one of those inclusions, Conor Hourihane, firing a free-kick into the middle in the 14th minute, which evaded everyone and squirmed into the net under the despairing dive of Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
Sixteen-year-old Harvey Elliott was particularly impressive early on for Liverpool, creating several openings, but Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland denied the Reds with several fine saves.
The visitors’ wastefulness came back to haunt them as Kodja’s double – the first a fine finish after being sent clear by Jota, and his second a smart finish from close range – put Villa out of sight before the interval.
Liverpool continued to have chances in the second half, but could not find a way past Nyland, with Wesley's first goal in 10 games in stoppage time putting the icing on the cake for Villa.
Plenty of positives for embryonic Reds. It was always going to be the tallest of orders, with Liverpool’s U23s left at home to take on Villa with the seniors in Qatar, but despite the less than flattering scoreline, the kids did alright. Elliott was especially comfortable on the ball, and if Nyland was not in inspired form, denying the youngsters with some fine stops, a shock result could have been on the cards. As it were, a first domestic defeat was inflicted by half time, but there were certainly reasons to be cheerful for stand-in coach Neil Critchley.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jonathan Kodjia. Plenty of Liverpool youngsters impressed, but for all their fine play, there was one thing lacking – an end product – something Kodjia provided in timely fashion. He will argue he should have had a first-half hat-trick, feeling he got a touch to Hourihane's free-kick, but on his first start of the season, two other fine finishes will do his confidence a world of good. Two efforts at goal, two goals. What more do you need from a striker?
Aston Villa: Nyland 8, Elmohamady 7, Chester 7, Konsa 6, Taylor 6, Lansbury 7, Luiz 6, Hourihane 8, Jota 7, Kodjia 8, Trezeguet 7... Subs: Hause 6, Wesley 7.
Liverpool: Kelleher 5, Hoever 5, Boyes 5, Van den Berg 5, Gallacher 6, Chirivella 6, Christie-Davies 5, Kane 7, Longstaff 6, Hill 6, Elliott 8. Subs: Bearne 6, Clarkson 6, Norris 6.
10’ - SAVE! The space opens up for Elliott, who has time to run at the Villa defence before firing for goal, but Orjan Nyland makes a smart stop.
11’ - SAVE AGAIN! Nyland again to the rescue for Villa. Again the Villa backline backs off, Kane steals in, just has Nyland to beat, but the Villa stopper spreads himself to make the block.
14’ - GOOOOAALLLL! Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool. Not the prettiest as Conor Hourihane's free-kick goes straight in! Suckerpunch for Liverpool's youngsters. Hourihane lined up the free-kick, which he whipped into the middle with venom, Jonathan Kodjia stuck out a leg, missed it, which deceived Kelleher in the Liverpool goal, and the ball squirmed underneath his dive and in.
17’ - GOOOOOOOAAALLLL!!! Aston Villa 2-0 Liverpool. Disaster for Liverpool as Ahmed Elmohamady's cross takes a huge deflection and loops into the net! Elmohamady burst down the right, tried to centre the ball, but Morgan Boyes got half a deflection on it, only for the ball to loop over Kelleher and into the net! So unlucky.
37’ - GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!! Aston Villa 3-0 Liverpool. Kodjia races clear to make it three for Villa. Slack defending from Liverpool as they fail to get the ball clear, Jota pokes the loose ball through for Kodjia, who strides clear and slots the ball home for his first of the season.
45’ - GOOOOAAAALLLLL!! Aston Villa 4-0 Liverpool. Kodjia again from close range to make it four. This is starting to get cruel. Great play from Jota to set up Elmohamady, who threaded the ball across for Kodjia to score his second of the game.
55’ - SAVE! Nyland again denies Liverpool! And again it is Kane from close range, diverting the ball towards goal, only for Nyland to throw out a left arm to deny the youngster.
85’ - SAVE! Still no goals for Liverpool, but they do deserve one. Nyland make a wonderful initial stop from Gallacher before Clarkson goes close again with a leaping header, but it goes straight at the goalkeeper.
90+2’ - GOAL! Aston Villa 5-0 Liverpool. There is the goal from Wesley to cap the evening for Villa.
Liverpool have conceded four first half goals for the first time in any competition since May 2015, against Stoke in the Premier League.
Kodjia has scored his first brace since August 2018 (against Brentford in the Championship)
This was Liverpool’s first defeat in 20 games across all competitions (W16 D3), with Aston Villa becoming the first side to beat them since Napoli in the Champions League back in September.