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Premier League and FA forced Jurgen Klopp into drastic Liverpool decision to offer future hint

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It has been almost four years since Liverpool secured a memorable FA Cup win over Shrewsbury – but what happened to that young side?

Ever since arriving in English football back in October 2015, there has been one real bugbear for Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool manager: the sheer numbers of games being played.

And from being regarded as merely moaning about his lot, Klopp’s view has now become the prevalent one with steps having been taken to help ease the burden on players and ensure they remain as refreshed as possible.

One such measure has been the introduction of the Premier League mid-winter break of which the Reds boss was a strong advocate, with teams being given a weekend off from top-flight duties. Given the lengthy absentee list for the Reds, the present pause has arrived at an opportune time for Klopp.

That, though, wasn’t the case when the break was first introduced back in 2020, the lack of joined-up by the authorities meaning FA Cup fourth round replays were scheduled when clubs had planned on being away.

Sure enough, Liverpool’s failure to see off Shrewsbury Town at the first attempt meant an Anfield replay in early February. And with Klopp insistent on his players being given a breather having less than six weeks earlier been in Qatar for their successful Club World Cup campaign, the Reds faced a similar quandary as when they were in the Middle East.

The refusal of the fixture planners to switch the League Cup quarter-final at Aston Villa meant Liverpool had no option but to field an Academy side with the senior squad taking on Monterey in the Club World Cup semi-final less than 24 hours later. The young Reds were promptly thrashed 5-0.

That, though, didn’t prevent Klopp from sticking to his word and allowing the whole of the senior squad and coaching staff their mid-season break, the Reds boss again handing over the reins to then under-23 coach Neil Critchley to select a team made up of Academy players.

And it prompted one of Anfield’s most enjoyable evenings of recent times as the young Reds beat the League One side 1-0 through an own goal from visiting centre-back Ro-Shaun Williams.

While the average age of 19 years and 102 days made it the Reds’ youngest-ever senior side, what’s interesting is how the players involved have subsequently fared. Indeed, it suggests the victory may not have been that much of a surprise after all.

Three of them – Caoimhin Kelleher, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott – are very much part of the current senior Liverpool squad with all three starting the League Cup semi-final first leg win over Fulham last week. Against Shrewsbury, Jones, who had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days earlier, was making his fourth senior start and became the youngest captain in Liverpool’s history when leading out the team. It was also only a fourth start for Kelleher, and a sixth for Elliott.

Neco Williams, whose cross forced the deciding strike, was also making only his fourth Liverpool start, with the right-back then featuring more prominently in the first half of the following campaign. He ended up making 33 appearances before joining Fulham on loan and then newly-promoted Premier League side Nottingham Forest in a permanent £17m deal. Still only 22, he has featured in the finals of the European Championships and World Cup for Wales.

And in midfield Leighton Clarkson made a full debut, after which he started in the Champions League against FC Midtjylland the following season. After a successful loan spell at Aberdeen last term, he made a permanent move to the Scottish Premiership side in the summer and was a beaten League Cup finalist against Rangers last month.

For the remaining players who featured against Shrewsbury, it was their most recent and, in many cases, final appearance for the Liverpool senior side.

The two centre-backs were Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp van den Berg. Hoever, who made four appearances, joined Wolves later in the year for £13.5m and is now on loan from Molineux at Stoke City. Van den Berg is also on four Reds outings but remains at the club, with the 22-year-old impressing on loan at Bundesliga side Mainz this season.

Pedro Chirivella lined up in midfield for his 11th and final Liverpool appearance before joining Nantes in the summer. He is still at the Ligue 1 side, for whom he captains and helped with the French Cup in 2022.

Jake Cain, Liam Millar, Adam Lewis and substitute Joe Hardy all played their solitary games for the club. Cain is now at League Two side Swindon Town, Millar is on loan at Championship side Preston North End from Basel, while Lewis is on the books at Anfield and is spending a season at League Two outfit Newport County. Hardy, meanwhile, has dropped down the leagues and features for Northern Premier League Division One West club Bootle.

Of the other two substitutes who were introduced that night, Morgan Boyes made his second of two Reds appearances and is now on loan at Inverness Caledonian Thistle from Scottish side Livingston, while Elijah Dixon-Bonner featured in 2021/22 at Preston in the League Cup and, coincidentally, made his one Liverpool start when the Reds were again drawn to face Shrewsbury in the FA Cup, this time at home in the third round. He currently features regularly for Queens Park Rangers in the Championship.

For Critchley, too, it was an important evening, bringing him to national prominence. He was installed Blackpool manager within weeks and led them to promotion to the Championship, and is now back with the Tangerines after a brief time as Steven Gerrard’s assistant at Aston Villa and a difficult spell in charge at QPR.

With FA Cup replays in the third and fourth rounds set to be scrapped after this season, only a draw with either Norwich City or Bristol Rovers at the end of the month will ensure Liverpool haven’t already played their last rematch in the competition.

And of the 96 in which the Reds have been previously involved, none were quite like that Anfield night almost four years ago.

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