Birmingham, England, Jan 8 (efe-epa).- Liverpool revved up their struggling attack in a 4-1 victory Friday night in the FA Cup over Aston Villa, a club that was forced to field a youth-heavy line-up due to the coronavirus.
The Reds had lacked their typical pace and clinical finishing in recent Premier League games, having settled for a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion and a scoreless draw against Newcastle United late last month and lost 1-0 to Southampton on Monday.
But they wasted little time opening the scoring at Villa Park in Birmingham against a home side that was forced to field a line-up of U-23 players devoid of first-team experience due to an outbreak of the coronavirus at their training ground.
Senegal international Sadio Mane scored just four minutes into the behind-closed-doors match when he headed a shot inside the near post off a pass from the right side from Welsh right back Neco Williams.
Villa, however, withstood Liverpool’s pressure over the next half hour without ceding any more goals and then stunned the Reds on a play set up by a perfect through-ball from Callum Rowe.
That pass found 17-year-old Louie Barry, who sprinted ahead of a defender and then scored past on-rushing net minder Caoimhin Kelleher to knot the contest at 1-1 in the 41st minute.
That score held up until halftime, a monumental achievement for Villa’s youth brigade against the 2019-2020 Premier League champions.
The Cinderella story collapsed, however, early in the second half.
Liverpool, who for the fourth straight game had gone a lengthy stretch without putting the ball in the net, were determined to impose their dominance and did so over a decisive five-minute stretch.
Georginio Wijnaldum gave the Reds the lead for good at the one-hour mark when he scored from the top of the box off a pass from Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool then stretched their lead to 4-1 in a blink of an eye, with Mane notching his brace in the 63rd minute on another header and Salah adding one final goal in minute 65.
Although several Villa players were suffering from cramps over the final 20 minutes of the contest, they managed to avoid any further damage on the scoreboard despite continued pressure from the visitors.
With the win, Liverpool advanced to the last 32 of this famed annual knockout competition.
In one other FA Cup game on Friday, the Wolverhampton Wanderers edged Crystal Palace 1-0 on a first-half goal by Spain’s Adama Traore (his first in nearly a year) to book their spot in that contest’s round of 32, which will be played later this month. EFE-EPA