occer Football - FA Cup - Third Round - Aston Villa v Liverpool - Villa Park, Birmingham, Britain - January 8, 2021 Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their fourth goal (REUTERS)
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said preparing to face a youthful Aston Villa team in Friday's FA Cup third round clash presented a challenge he had never faced before, but the German was pleased after his side emerged with a 4-1 win.
Villa were forced to field academy players due to a mass COVID-19 outbreak among their ranks, with Under-23 coach Mark Delaney taking charge of the game instead of first-team manager Dean Smith.
Sadio Mane scored twice while Georginio Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah added one each to cancel out a fine goal by Villa's 17-year-old striker Louie Barry and send Liverpool into the fourth round.
"The kids of Villa did really well," Klopp told reporters. "It was a tricky one. I've never before had this kind of challenge in my life, that you have no idea who you're playing against – absolutely no idea."
"You prepare a meeting and then you can throw all the preparation, all the videos in the bin and then you have to start new. That's football and academy players are good players.
"Last year we played here with our kids and they gave Villa a proper game as well. That's just how it is. These young kids can all play football and if you don't play well against them you have problems."
Sixteen Villa players made their first-team debuts on Friday and Delaney said he was immensely proud of the character they had shown.
"The characteristics of the boys, their togetherness, the camaraderie between the group, they pulled themselves together, they didn't let it faze them," he said. "You've got to take your hat off to the players, they were outstanding."
Liverpool host Manchester United on Jan. 17 as they return to Premier League action.
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