Liverpool scored three goals in five second-half minutes to reach the FA Cup fourth round with a 4-1 win at Aston Villa on Friday after the home side were forced to field academy players due to a mass COVID-19 outbreak among their ranks.
Sadio Mane scored twice for the English champions while Georginio Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah added one each to cancel out a fine goal by Villa’s 17-year old striker Louie Barry, who netted on his senior debut for the Midlands side.
Villa stunned Liverpool 7-2 in the Premier League at the same venue in October but they had no chance of emulating the success as nine of their first team players and five staff members tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.
Villa’s Under-23 coach Mark Delaney took charge of the game instead of first-team manager Dean Smith and the club also closed their training ground following the outbreak.
Mane headed Liverpool into a fourth-minute lead before Barry enjoyed a moment of glory in the 41st, when he levelled as he raced clear of Rhys Williams and steered a low shot into the bottom left corner.
Liverpool’s incessant pressure paid dividends after the break with Wijnaldum restoring their lead on the hour when he side-footed a sublime shot past goalkeeper Akos Onodi after good work from Salah and Takumi Minamino.
Mane made it 3-1 with a looping header from a Xherdan Shaqiri cross and Salah sealed Liverpool’s progress with a shot on the turn past Onodi, who made an array of fine saves throughout the match.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp was not entirely happy with the performance, having praised the youngsters while pointing out that his side had made too many simple errors.
“The kids did really well – that’s good,” he told BT Sport.
“Problems in passing and moving. Too many on the wrong side of the ball, not enough recoveries of passes. We had chances and shot the ball directly at the goalie – we changed it in the second half. It was rusty but better in the second half.”
In the evening’s other fixture, Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Crystal Palace 1-0 thanks to Adama Traore’s 35th-minute strike as he beat visiting keeper Jack Butland with a thunderbolt from the edge of the penalty area.
Wolves dominated as Fabio Silva headed over the bar early on and Butland parried a low Nelson Semedo drive but he was powerless when Traore teed himself up and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
The home team’s manager Nuno Espirito Santo praised Traore after the winger netted his first goal of the season in any competition.
“It was a special goal from a special player,” said the Portuguese. “I am very happy because I think this goal will boost his confidence. He has been really trying in training sessions and that is why I am so happy.”