Liverpool boys play ‘adult football’ as Klopp hails Milner
Liverpool are back on their “perch”, according to the club’s chief executive, and on the evidence of this largely commanding victory over MK Dons, they have every reason to believe their youngsters can help them stay there.
Jurgen Klopp shares that confidence, it seems, making 11 changes here and then watching contently as his talented collection of kids, helped by the tireless James Milner, provided an encouraging glimpse of what the future might hold.
Peter Moore’s “perch” comments earlier in the day, in reference to the phrase famously used by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, could easily have been thrown back in the club’s face had there been any hint of a slip-up. Moore, you suspect, had no reason to worry. Indeed, there are few reasons for anyone to worry about Liverpool at the moment; top of the table and looking so strong.
There were a handful of hairy moments in the second half, after Milner and young Ki-jana Hoever had given Liverpool a two-goal lead, but Klopp could hardly have asked for more. It will not be so straightforward against Arsenal in the next round, although the draw will provide a test of just how much faith Klopp has in these youngsters.
Curtis Jones, 18, was excellent on the left wing, as was Harvey Elliott, who, at 16 years and 174 days, became the youngest player to start a competitive match for Liverpool. Hoever played well beyond his 17 years, while goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, 20, produced a spectacular save. “The boys played adult football,” Klopp said. “It was a very physical situation.”
Milner appeared invigorated by the youngsters. The 33-year-old, who made his professional debut before Elliott had even been born, scored the first and then created Hoever’s second. “The player with the most experience was the best player on the pitch,” Klopp said.
A sell-out crowd, the largest for a home MK Dons game, could do nothing to help the hosts against opposition of this calibre. Paul Tisdale’s side, 15th in League One, only caused problems late in the second half, when Jordan Bowery was denied by both the foot of the post and then by Kelleher’s reactions. “We deserved a goal,” Tisdale said.
The problem was that Liverpool deserved plenty more. Elliott struck the bar in both halves. The opener arrived late in the first period, when Milner’s drive was spilt into his own net by Stuart Moore. After the interval, Milner’s leftwing cross was powerfully headed in by Hoever at the back post.