Liverpool survived a scare from coronavirus-ravaged Aston Villa to reach the FA Cup fourth round with a 4-1 win against opponents missing their entire first-team squad as the pandemic wreaks havoc on English football.
Villa fielded a raw side comprised entirely of youth academy players and were without boss Dean Smith after being hit hard by a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this week.
In all, 14 unnamed Villa employees – nine players and five staff – have tested positive, forcing the Premier League club to close their training base on Thursday because of the outbreak.
Liverpool played a strong side for the third round tie at Villa Park, but Villa’s youngsters acquitted themselves well.
Four of Villa’s starting line-up weren’t even born when Liverpool midfielder James Milner made his professional debut for Leeds in 2002.
But they gave Liverpool a shock when Louie Barry cancelled out Sadio Mane’s opener.
Eventually, the Premier League champions’ class told with a blitz of three goals in five minutes in the second half.
Georginio Wijnaldum struck before Mane and Mohamed Salah sealed a first win in four games in all competitions for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
“The kids did really well,” Klopp said. “We had problems in passing and moving. Too many on the wrong side of the ball, not enough recoveries of passes.
There are growing concerns over whether the Premier League season can be completed on time as the new virus variant plagues Britain.
A record-high 40 positive tests were detected among top-flight players and staff in the week between December 28 and January 3 and four Premier League games have already been postponed this term.