On a day when Donny van de Beek hoped to show why he deserves more minutes for Manchester United, up stepped Bruno Fernandes to show why that simply isn't happening.

The eye-catching selection of Van de Beek ahead of Fernandes for this FA Cup clash of giants at Old Trafford was all about "rotation", according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's manager clearly felt his team could combat a faltering Liverpool team without their star man, albeit leaving him on the bench in case of emergency.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into," Solskjaer told the BBC.

Van de Beek has not started a Premier League game since he was hauled off with United trailing at half-time at West Ham in early December, and he might not be starting any soon either given how this game transpired.

A 66th-minute switch of the Portuguese for the underwhelming Van de Beek proved pivotal, and the delightful free-kick from Fernandes that settled an absorbing game 3-2 in United's favour was one that had been conceived on Saturday.

"I think he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks, so I was quite confident that he was going to hit the target," Solskjaer said.

Solskjaer, the erstwhile supersub, knew the calibre of replacement that was up his sleeve, and the rotation worked in a roundabout way. Are we looking at more proof that United's once-maligned Norwegian boss is actually a tactical master?

Liverpool's season, meanwhile, takes another negative turn.

Donny fluffs his big chance

With a mere 18 passes and 23 touches, Van de Beek was peripheral in a midfield where Paul Pogba shone and Scott McTominay fought for every ball.

The former Ajax man had a glorious early chance to stamp his mark on the game when he burst into space on the right and looked sure to dart towards the penalty area, as Edinson Cavani waited for a pass in the centre.

But no. Van de Beek paused and decided to go backwards, and the chance was gone.

This game was a world away from the Anfield snore draw seven days previously in the Premier League, yet Van de Beek largely let it pass him by.

By the time Fernandes cracked his sublime winner into the right corner, Van de Beek must have been wondering when such an opportunity will arise again.

Salah shows he must start

Like Fernandes, Salah has seen his form and contribution questioned in recent weeks, and just as United's match-winner dispelled such criticism, so did Liverpool's main man.

After all the talk about front threes, and which of these sides had the most deadly attacking trio, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp went with a two-man strikeforce, Salah and Roberto Firmino linking up and Sadio Mane on the bench.

Both Salah and Firmino had been substitutes on Thursday for the defeat to Burnley, but they were a combination that United struggled to contain at times here.

Salah struck twice, the first a sublime chip, and Firmino set up both. The Brazilian has now assisted Salah for 18 goals during their time together at Liverpool, the most any player has set up another during Klopp's reign.

Unlike Firmino and Mane, Salah has exceeded his expected goals (xG) in the Premier League this season, with eight non-penalty goals from an xG of 5.3, and if Liverpool are to resurrect their season, the bench is surely no place for the Egyptian.

Glorious Greenwood

Mason Greenwood has not scored in the Premier League since that West Ham game, when he helped United turn their half-time deficit around and earn a 3-1 victory.

Here he looked lively from the early stages, albeit with one too many lollipops and insufficient tasty final product until he cancelled out Salah's opener.

The way the 19-year-old ended an 10-game barren spell spoke volumes of his belief, with Marcus Rashford's sweeping pass over the Liverpool defence finding his wing twin on the right and allowing Greenwood to thump a low shot past Alisson.

With Rashford also on target, this was quite a day to savour for the hosts.

Liverpool "wanted it too much" against Manchester United on Sunday and left themselves exposed, claimed Jurgen Klopp.

On the back of their colossal home record in the league coming to an end at the hands of Burnley on Thursday, Liverpool suffered a second successive defeat as they went down 3-2 in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.

Bruno Fernandes came off the bench to score a stunning free-kick to settle a contest that delivered the quality which the league meeting between the two bitter rivals one week earlier had been severely lacking.

Mohamed Salah scored both of Liverpool's goals in an impressive return to form, with Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford on target for United prior to Fernandes' winner.

United had 41.6 per cent possession but managed to equal Liverpool's tally of attempts (14) and shots on target (six).

For both of United's first two goals, Liverpool were caught cold on the counter.

Klopp believes that was a result of his side being slightly overzealous in their desire to arrest a dismal run of form which has seen them win just once – against Aston Villa's youngsters – in their last seven matches across all competitions.

"There was a lot of good things and some mistakes around the goals. If you want to win here you have to be absolutely top and we were not," Klopp told reporters.

"For the first goal we had no protection, we wanted it too much. Things like this should not happen but they can happen.

"We can take things out of this game, we try to learn from every game. It's good for Mo Salah, good for the confidence. It was a tough game. We want it hard but tonight it was not enough.

"If you win a game there are negatives, if you lose a game too, but I saw the boys really, really wanted it. We had problems on the counter-attack, it was intense, but there were positives."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will face West Ham – and former United manager David Moyes – in the fifth round of the cup, while they also sit pretty at the top of the league as it stands.

After seeing his side fall behind to Salah's 18th-minute chip, Solskjaer was delighted with United's response.

"Brilliant – you know when you go a goal down, the reaction of everyone was really good," he told BBC Sport.

"We played some really good stuff, good goals, we have to defend well against them and we managed to react well and of course towards the end there were some moments but we kept them away."

Fernandes ultimately made the difference, scoring with his only attempt, while he also crafted a chance for Edinson Cavani with a wonderful cross – the experienced forward heading against the post.

"Great goal, good free-kick," Solskjaer said of Fernandes' impact. "When you leave him out like I did today, he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks so I was pretty confident he could score one if he got the chance.

"He's never happy with me when I tell him to go inside after training when he's playing the next day so he got some practice yesterday."

United are now unbeaten in their last eight home games against Liverpool in all competitions (W4 D4) since a defeat in March 2014.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Bruno Fernandes out of his starting line-up for Sunday's FA Cup clash with Liverpool.

Fernandes, who has been United's shining light since arriving from Sporting CP almost 12 months ago, was only a substitute for the fourth-round game.

This season he has scored 15 goals and supplied nine assists in 28 games across all competitions from his advanced midfield role, but there have been questions asked about his form in recent weeks.

He has just one goal and no assists in four Premier League appearances since the turn of the year.

Into the United team went former Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek as Solskjaer decided the game presented a chance to rotate his squad, making five changes to the side that won 2-1 at Fulham on Wednesday.

Solskjaer explained why Fernandes did not start, saying on BBC One: "It's rotation in the squad.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into.

"He's done nothing wrong when he's been around the club so I'm looking forward to seeing him in there."

Premier League leaders United also brought in goalkeeper Dean Henderson, centre-back Victor Lindelof, midfielder Scott McTominay and forward Marcus Rashford, as David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Fred and Anthony Martial dropped out.

Liverpool also showed five changes as Jurgen Klopp looked for a response to Thursday's shock 1-0 home defeat to Burnley, which ended a 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield in the Premier League.

Teenage centre-back Rhys Williams came in for the absent Joel Matip, while James Milner and Curtis Jones were selected as Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropped to the bench.

Sadio Mane and Divock Origi were also substitutes as Klopp gave starts to Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, with the Old Trafford clash coming a week on from these two sides battling out a dreary goalless draw at Anfield in the league.

Jurgen Klopp insisted talk about Liverpool star Mohamed Salah's contract would not be a distraction.

Salah has a deal at Anfield until 2023, but his future has become a talking point after he refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with AS last month.

While Liverpool have struggled for consistency and sit fourth in the Premier League, Salah has netted 13 times to be the top goalscorer in the competition.

Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup clash against Manchester United, Klopp said he had no doubt about Salah's focus despite talk about his future.

"It's not that [players] go out and [volunteer] to talk about the things we think are important. It's pretty rare that that happens," the Liverpool manager told reporters.

"We get asked questions and then we answer and that's then the story and it always sounds like we started the conversation.

"But in Mo's case it's not like that, so no, I don't think it will distract the season."

While Salah is the top goalscorer in the Premier League with 13, five of those have come from the penalty spot.

But his big chance conversion (64.3 per cent) is the highest it has been since he joined Liverpool from Roma in 2017.

However, his dribbles success rate (39) is the lowest since he arrived at Anfield.

Liverpool have won just one of their past six games ahead of their trip to Old Trafford to face rivals United.

Jurgen Klopp is not feeling the pressure despite Liverpool's worrying form, believing the shock home defeat to Burnley can act as a catalyst to "change things properly". 

The reigning champions were downed by a late Ashley Barnes penalty as their 68-game unbeaten run at home in the Premier League come to a stunning end on Thursday. 

Klopp watched on as his team endured a fourth successive league outing without scoring, leaving them six points off the pace in the title race. 

Ahead of Sunday's FA Cup tie with league leaders Manchester United, Klopp explained how Liverpool have not used the right tools of late, something the Reds will work hard to correct as they look to get back to somewhere near their best.

"I don't feel the pressure from outside, I deal with the pressure I put on myself my entire life. I'm used to that already," Klopp told the media while previewing the trip to Old Trafford. 

"When you have had the success we've had, there are two directions then. One is you keep going exactly on the same level, which is difficult with the challenges you have around. The other one is it gets a little bit less. 

"At the moment, it feels like a lot less. That's what we have to change, we are not like this where we think that just because we try, we should get everything. We are really ready for the fight; we are ready for the battle, 100 per cent. 

"But, in the moment, we don't use the right tools. That is true as well. That is what we absolutely have to adjust and improve, and that's what we are doing. 

"The only problem is the tests we face are constantly in the public and on television, so everybody watches each little step in whatever direction. That is obviously nice when you have a good run, and when not in a good a run it's not exactly the same, you don't get the same joy with it." 

Liverpool are on a five-game winless streak in the Premier League and while the loss to struggling Burnley was disappointing, Klopp hopes it can be turned into a positive, offering something of a reset point during what is an arduous season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The Reds had 27 attempts at goal on Thursday, six of which were on target, while they have now had 87 efforts since previously finding the net in the league, a run that started after Sadio Mane's early opener in the 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 27.

Klopp's side are the first English top-flight team since West Ham in 1967 to have failed to find the net in four successive league matches, yet still be the division's top scorers.

"In these moments, I'm not in doubt about us as a group at all," Klopp – who also confirmed Mohamed Salah is set to start against United – said. 

"But these moments are where you need the group to come close together and do the right things. That's what we do. 

"We lost that game [to Burnley] and it was a really low point. It was not like I thought, 'Oh, who cares?' – it was a game we lost.  

"When I think back, I cannot find a reason why we lost that game, but we lost it. With all the things that happened – the penalty, the chance we had, all these kind of things – but it happened. 

"Sometimes, you need a really low point to change things properly. That, for sure, is what we will try now, 100 per cent. 

"If we would have won in a bad game, somehow 1-0, the world would have said it's not the football that we usually play but it's a result. But, in the long term, it wouldn't be a real help. That game can be a real help, if we use it."

Liverpool have only reached the FA Cup fifth round once in Klopp's five previous seasons at the club, doing so last term before they were knocked out by top-flight rivals Chelsea.

Jurgen Klopp acknowledges signing a centre-back would help Liverpool, yet he will not be getting frustrated over a lack of activity by the club in the January transfer window. 

The reigning Premier League champions have been left with a shortage of options in defence due to long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, while Joel Matip has struggled for fitness. 

However, Thursday's 1-0 defeat to Burnley saw the Reds endure a fourth successive league outing without scoring, an issue that Klopp insists would not be resolved by adding defensive reinforcements. 

The Liverpool boss understands that the financial implications of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic make it tough to add new faces, so he instead focuses on working with the players he does have at his disposal. 

"I'm not a five-year-old kid any more in that if I don't get what I want I start crying," Klopp told the media ahead of Sunday's FA Cup trip to Manchester United.

"Most of the time in my life I didn't get what I wanted, to be honest, so we are all pretty much used to that. It's not like this. 

"I'm responsible for a big part of this football club, but there are people who are responsible for the whole thing. I cannot make their decisions, I know they are with us and they support us, because they do.  

"Now we talk about a centre-half. Yes, it would help, 100 per cent. Would we score more goals with a centre-half? I'm not sure. Would it give us a little bit more stability in specific moments? Probably, yes. 

"But, again, it's not about that. It's not about what would be with somebody else, and I think never ever have we spoken in and around a transfer window like this about it, because I think that would then read as an excuse and we don't need that. 

"What we have to do is improve the football we play in a decisive area with this squad, not sitting here disappointed or frustrated with some decisions. I'm not." 

Liverpool did spend in the previous transfer window, adding Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich and Diogo Jota, who arrived from Wolves, but was sidelined by injury after a promising start. Konstantinos Tsimikas also joined from Olympiacos, though the left-back has featured sparingly.

Klopp has used inexperienced duo Rhys Williams and Nathaniel Phillips for some games at the back, while midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have filled in at the heart of the defence too.

"We know what we would do in an ideal world, but it is not ideal. We have to deal with this situation, this is what we all have to do," Klopp continued. 

"A centre-half last night [against Burnley] would not have won us the game in this specific situation, so we really don't have to talk about it. 

"I know it's a good thing to talk about - for you [the media] - but for me it's just not that important. Everything is on the table and all the things are clear - we just have to work on the football stuff." 

Liverpool have had 87 attempts at goal since their last Premier League goal, including 27 against Burnley at Anfield as their 68-game unbeaten home run in the competition came to an end. 

Klopp will hope for a change of fortune in the FA Cup, though the German has only reached the fifth round once during his time in charge on Merseyside. 

Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool will "go again" and believes it is on him to change the way he communicates with his players to get the Reds firing again.

Liverpool suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Burnley on Thursday, bringing an end to an astonishing run of 68 home games without a loss in the Premier League dating back to April 2017.

During that impressive run, Liverpool scored 168 goals, but the defending champions have now failed to score in four successive league matches and have slipped six points off leaders and fierce rivals Manchester United, who they face in the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

Klopp accepted full responsibility for the Burnley setback and said the onus is on him to give his players the platform to get back to the lofty standards that saw them win the Champions League and Premier League over the previous two seasons.

"Of course we go again, no doubt about that. I said what I thought, like most of the time actually," Klopp told a pre-match news conference.

"I said it when things don't work out on the pitch as we want them to work out, then there's an issue.

"How I understand it, the issues, I then tell the boys, I didn't tell them clear enough. I have to change the way I tell the boys [these things].

"Confidence is nothing naturally given, to normal people at least, you have to do something to build confidence, it didn't work out in the final third in the last few games.

"But it's not like we can't find it again - we have to work, that's what we do. I don't have five million different words for the same issue, maybe other words describe it better but the thing is we didn't get the results now for a few weeks we wanted.

"Parts of the game were absolutely good enough, parts were not, we have to keep going with things that were good enough, that's the way."

Klopp's side were utterly dominant en route to ending a 30-year wait for a top-flight title last term and he was asked if a change in mindset, whereby they have become the chasers, may ease the pressure a little.

The former Borussia Dortmund boss replied: "That will be a good way to do it to be honest, yes.

"When you don't like a situation, you have to change the right things.

"I like to say and see that in each match there is a chance. I spoke to my players last night and will do again today, it's not for a press conference what I will say to them.

"In the end what we do for the outside world is not so important, it's only important we change it. In the end we have to defend, have to create, have to score, we know that 100 per cent that's what we'll try to do on Sunday."

Asked how the team felt about the end of their unbeaten league at Anfield, Klopp said: "Honestly we didn't feel that pressure.

"We never spoke about a number or anything like this. We can start again 100 per cent."

Klopp's team drew with United in a turgid and goalless Premier League game last weekend.

The Liverpool boss again plans to put out a strong line-up against an in-form United, and said of the clash with the Red Devils: "It's a different competition. 

"We want to go through and for this we have to play really well because United is in a really good moment, they get the results they wanted so far. We have to be ready 100 per cent."

Liverpool have been handed a boost by the return of Joel Matip for their meeting with Burnley, but Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino must settle for a place on the bench.

A run of four Premier League games without a win has seen the Reds drop down to fourth, six points behind leaders Manchester United, ahead of Thursday's clash at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp's side have scored just once in that run and have not managed a goal in any of their last three outings.

Their talisman Salah has summed up their struggles, with the Egypt star having failed to score in any of his last four league appearances – his current drought lasting 365 minutes.

Only once has Salah gone longer without a goal for Liverpool and the 28-year-old has been rotated out by Klopp, alongside fellow forward Firmino.

Since Salah joined Liverpool in 2017, they have won four of their five Premier League games when both he and Firmino have been absent from the starting XI, including two wins over Burnley.

Sadio Mane is the only member of Liverpool's first-choice front three to start, with Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri named alongside the Senegal forward.

Along with Firmino, Mane has netted four times in his last four league appearances against Burnley.

Further back, Jordan Henderson misses out through what Liverpool described as a "minor fitness issue", with Georginio Wijnaldum named as captain.

Under Klopp, Liverpool's league win rate without Henderson featuring is 56 per cent, down from 66 when the England international plays.

The main positive for the Reds comes at the back, with Matip – who went off injured in a 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 27 – joining Fabinho in the centre of defence.

Matip and Fabinho will be up against Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, who has only played more games (seven) and minutes (435) against Southampton without scoring in the Premier League than he has against Liverpool (six games, 400 minutes).

Indeed, Burnley have failed to score in six of their last seven away Premier League fixtures, with their only goal in this run an own goal from Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the Clarets have lost their last two matches.

Jurgen Klopp is adamant Liverpool's recent woes in attack are simply down to poor decision-making in the final third rather than teams getting wise to their style of play.

The Reds head into Thursday's Premier League clash with Burnley having failed to score in any of their previous three top-flight games.

They beat Crystal Palace 7-0 just over a month ago but have since won just three points in the league, scoring once and seeing Manchester United rise to the summit. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men can return to the top with a win over Fulham on Wednesday.

Much of the focus on Liverpool's attacking issues has somewhat unsurprisingly been centred on Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, all of whom were disappointing in the 0-0 draw with United.

But Klopp seemed irritated when it was suggested a factor could be that other teams have learnt how to play against them.

"You can make of it what you want, it's football, it's not a new game, we didn't invent it new and then surprise the teams last year and they were like, 'oh my god, so that's how they attack'," Klopp said in his news conference.

"No team is to defend for a whole game, well, maybe a whole game but not then the next one. Other teams know what we're doing, last year they knew what we were doing, but we were still difficult to defend.

"Most of the good chances - we didn't miss them because they defended them, we missed because we didn't use them, so that is a massive difference. There are chances where we just have to finish them off better. That's the reason.

"Teams defend against us with all they have, that's not new. So, at the moment we have an 'offensive crisis', next headline will be everyone knows how to play against us.


"You smile as you ask the question but you know exactly what this kind of headline creates and what people are thinking, but it's normal. It's the situation we are in.

"I think I heard somewhere I have to rebuild this team? The world is a crazy place, not only because of the pandemic. It's because no one has time anymore, in football we know that.

"I've been in football long enough to know you never get time, you only get time if you make steps forward.

"After last season we haven't made steps forward, we know that, but we only make steps forward by playing not talking."

Of his first-choice attacking trio, Firmino seems to be the one receiving most of the criticism – after all, the Brazilian has only scored five times in the Premier League this season.

His goals (0.26) and assists (0.15) per 90 minutes this term across all competitions are the worst he has posted at Liverpool under Klopp, while his chance creation frequency is also at a low of 1.2 every 90 minutes.

It was put to Klopp that Liverpool have been less effective with regards to pressing this term, though Klopp dismissed the importance of that.

When asked how Firmino can get back on track, Klopp said: "By training, let's start with that, that's how it is.

"We didn't score a lot of goals in these games, it doesn't mean Roberto's performance dropped or whatever the counter press stats say – in this game it was not the case because a player wasn't there or we didn't do it well enough, we had a lot of great counter-pressing in this game, in other games before we press they may play a long ball, that's how it is.

"It's not always about your game, it's about the other team's approach as well, but we know we're not exactly where we want to be, there are some reasons but that’s not important, it's that we have to fight and we do."

Robert Lewandowski has paid tribute to Jurgen Klopp for the impact he had on the striker's path to being crowned the best player in the world last month.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski won The Best FIFA Men's Player award for 2020 after starring as Die Roten claimed a Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB-Pokal treble.

Between July 20, 2019 and October 7, 2020 – the period considered for the award – Lewandowski scored 60 club goals in 52 appearances across all competitions at a rate of one every 76 minutes.

He beat Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the prize, with the Pole effectively recognised the best footballer in the world in the absence of a Ballon d'Or winner in 2020.

Lewandowski has enjoyed immense success since joining Bayern in 2014, though he already looked destined for greatness during his time at Borussia Dortmund, where Klopp had begun to mould him into the lethal forward he is now.

Writing in a reflective piece for the Players' Tribune in the wake of his FIFA award win, Lewandowski said of the current Liverpool boss: "Jurgen was not only a father figure to me. As a coach, he was like the 'bad teacher'. And I mean that in the best sense of the word.

"Not the one who made life easy for you and never expected anything from you, but the one who was strict with you. The one who put pressure on you and did everything to get the best out of you. That's the teacher who made you better. Jurgen was like that.

"He was not content to let you be a B-grade student. Jurgen wanted A+ students. He didn't want it for him. He wanted it for you.

"I could talk to Jurgen about anything. I could trust him. He is a family man, and he has so much empathy for what goes on in your private life."

Lewandowski took a season to truly adapt to German football after joining from Lech Poznan in his native Poland, as he only netted eight Bundesliga goals in 33 games during the 2010-11 campaign.

That remains the only season he has failed to reach double figures for league goals during his time in Germany, and Lewandowski considers Klopp's influence to be a major part of his improvement.

"He taught me so much," the striker continued. "When I arrived at Dortmund, I wanted to do everything quickly: strong pass, one touch only. Jurgen showed me to calm down — to take two touches if necessary.

"It was totally against my nature, but soon I was scoring more goals. When I had that down, he challenged me to speed it up again.

"One touch. BANG. Goal. He slowed me down to speed me up. It sounds simple, but it was genius, really."

Lewandowski's shot conversion rate rose from 13.1 per cent to 22.5 after his first season with Klopp and has never dipped below 20 per cent since.

In fact, the 32-year-old appears to be getting better with age, given his best ever return in terms of shot conversion was posted last term (29.8), and he is well on track to obliterate that personal best in 2020-21.

With 20 goals in 14 Bundesliga games, the Polish marksman is converting 44.4 per cent of his opportunities.

 

Neco Williams hopes improving Liverpool's FA Cup record will be a motivating ambition that drives the team on to the final in this season's competition.

Liverpool beat Aston Villa 4-1 in the third round on Friday, though the hosts were forced to field a team comprised of youngsters as a result of a significant COVID-19 outbreak.

Jurgen Klopp's men ended their long wait for a Premier League title last season and tasted Champions League glory in 2019, though they have not won the FA Cup since 2006.

That is a run right-back Williams, who played the full 90 minutes at Villa Park, is eager to change.

"The FA Cup is not a cup we have done that well in, so I think this year we are looking forward to pushing on and to get to the final and hopefully win it," he told the club's website.

"It's always good to score goals and that just gives the lads who scored the confidence to go and do that in the next game, keep adding them goals to the charts.

"The more clinical they are, the more goals they are going to get. So it was good for the lads."

Williams, 19, sees increased opportunities to play as another advantage of an FA Cup run, while praising the efforts of Villa's battling youngsters.

He added: "I think the more rounds we go through the FA Cup then hopefully the more game-time I can get. 

"I think if I was a young lad or I hadn't yet made my debut, the first thing I would want to do is make an impression and to give everything that I have got. 

"And to be fair to their lads, they did what they were told to do and they gave us a good game."

James Milner played on the opposite side of the defence to Williams and felt improvements had been needed after the Reds went into half-time with the match level at 1-1.

Milner told BT Sport: "I think obviously we needed to do some things better. 

"We started pretty well with the counter-pressing and pressed on the ball, but then maybe didn't get it right – especially for the goal [we] let them out of a couple of situations in the corner where they shouldn't have got out. 

"They're good players, they're at Aston Villa for a reason. Every single time you're not quite there, you're going to get punished. They took the goal and we had to lift ourselves again."

Jurgen Klopp lavished praise on Aston Villa's young players after they made Liverpool battle for their place in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday.

As a result of a training ground Covid-19 outbreak on Thursday, the hosts were forced to send Under-23s boss Mark Delaney and a team comprised of youngsters to face the Premier League champions at Villa Park.

They more than held their own for large parts, and even got to the half-time break level thanks to a well-taken Louie Barry goal.

Liverpool took the game away from Villa in the second period, ultimately running out comfortable 4-1 winners, but Klopp was impressed with what he saw from the opposition.

The German also took pleasure in the fact his far more experienced side eventually solved the 'football problems' in front of them.

He said: "The boys did really well, the kids of Aston Villa did really well, were organised and all that stuff. 

"It was clear. We scored an early goal, a nice one, and then we didn't play quick enough anymore, didn't move fast enough, didn't play the right spaces.

"These are football problems and we solved the football problems with football in the second half. So, I'm really fine with it. 

"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; that 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 Aston 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. Second half, we played exactly like we should have played from the beginning and that's why we won really, the right way."

Klopp withdrew captain Jordan Henderson at half-time in Birmingham but went on to reveal that the change was not down to a new fitness issue.

Asked about a possible injury blow, he replied: "No, no, Hendo and Thiago was clear before the game that we do it like this: 45, 45. Absolutely no problem."

The German also explained that he had no concerns about his squad being exposed to coronavirus despite the late change to Villa's proposed line-up.

He continued: "No, no reservations. We trust the authorities, we had our test results come back yesterday as well, everybody was negative. Then the FA did what they thought is right with the U23s, they got tested, we got their results this morning I think at 10 o'clock.

"We were on the car park at the airport. So, then everything is fine."

Jurgen Klopp says he has no problem with Liverpool not dipping into the transfer market in January as owners Fenway Sports Group are only acting in the best interests of the club. 

The Premier League champions have been badly depleted this season, particularly in the heart of their defence with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez long-term absentees and Joel Matip struggling to stay fit. 

Klopp is unlikely to add to his squad during the mid-season window, but the Reds boss understands it is difficult to do business at this time even without the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Liverpool boss insists he is on the same page as club ownership, no matter the key absences that could undermine their push for trophies. 

"In good times everyone thinks our owners are really generous – 'My God, big signings, whatever’ – and in bad times everyone thinks they are really tight – maybe because they are from a different country – but they are not, they are absolutely concerned about the club and success of the club," Klopp said. 

"And that is an understanding how we have it. They see exactly the same things I see about necessity of players and stuff – it's not that I say 'By the way a centre-half would be really nice’ and they say, 'Wow, a centre-half. Really? Why?' 

"It is all clear, all on the table, we work on that. It is the situation and on top of that we have January, not the easiest transfer window, having not the money exactly like we want. 

"It is a window where other clubs say, 'No, we have enough [money] to survive' so we don't do anything on our targets. 

"It is nothing to do with worrying [about whether it will impact their chances of winning trophies] or not. These are the facts.

"My job is to deal with the circumstances which I always do. If the world would be in a completely normal place, we would try everything to do the right stuff now but the world is not in a normal place so I don't know why we constantly try to treat the football like it is independent of other issues around."

Liverpool are due to be in FA Cup action on Friday, though their tie with Aston Villa is in doubt due to a coronavirus outbreak in their opponents' camp.

Villa announced on Friday they had closed their training ground as a consequence, while the Football Association will make a decision on whether the game goes ahead following further testing.

Liverpool are set to stick with their threadbare options at centre-back rather than recruiting a January replacement for Virgil van Dijk or Joe Gomez. 

The Reds have played much of the season so far with midfielder Fabinho in defence alongside a rotating cast of partners after long-term injuries to their starting duo. 

Joel Matip has been limited to just eight Premier League appearances due to his own fitness issues and is facing a race to be back for a vital game against Manchester United next week. 

Academy graduates have stepped in, with Nathaniel Phillips playing three times and Rhys Williams twice in the league, while captain Jordan Henderson lined up at centre-back in Monday's defeat to Southampton. 

Although Henderson and Fabinho won nine of the 11 duels they contested between them in that match and still ranked second and third for total touches, it is not an ideal fix. 

And such issues have prompted reports of interest in Schalke's Ozan Kabak and Lille's Sven Botman, although The Athletic reported on Thursday that Liverpool will not pursue either option in the mid-season window. 

Jurgen Klopp said prior to the game against Southampton that the club would do "the right thing" this month - and that appears to mean opting against a new signing. 

Asked if he could rule out a transfer as he previewed the scheduled trip to Aston Villa in the FA Cup, Klopp replied: "I cannot say definitely we will not bring one in. It's just not likely because of the situation in the world. 

"We should not forget that the [coronavirus] situation is a tough one for all people and for football clubs as well.

"There might be some clubs with absolutely no financial problems, but this club always was and will always be - with these owners, for sure - very responsible with the things we do. 

"If the world would be in a normal place, everything would be fine, we won the league, won the Champions League, the club is in the best possible situation, and you have three senior centre-halves all injured, is that a situation where you would normally do something? Yes, definitely. 

"But we are not in that situation, so I don't know if something will happen or not. 

"We maybe could do something, but it would be a short-term solution and we don't have a short-term solution, so it's not right because it does not help. 

"We have to get through this. It's not the best moment for the whole planet, so why should it be for this football club?" 

While rotation has been enforced in the middle of the defence, full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have remained automatic picks. 

Alexander-Arnold tested positive for COVID-19 in pre-season and has also battled a calf injury, yet has still played 15 of Liverpool's 17 league matches. 

The right-back's performance level has dipped this season and his first error leading to a goal handed Southampton a 1-0 win on Monday. 

There was criticism of Alexander-Arnold after that match, in which he was substituted, and Klopp acknowledged on Thursday it was "not his best game", though backed the England international to recover. 

"The reason is he was out for a while with COVID and had an injury which didn't help," Klopp said. "He had no pre-season really. 

"Then with the quality he has and the situation we were in, he played pretty early. He's now getting there. 

"Physically he's fine, he just has to find his top shape again, and that will happen sooner rather than later."

Jurgen Klopp acknowledged Liverpool are enduring a tough run but insisted performances have not been as bad as results suggest.

The defending Premier League champions are top of the table again but have won just two of their past six matches – and two of seven in all competitions.

Rivals Manchester United, who have a game in hand, have moved level on points with the Reds at the summit ahead of the two sides meeting next weekend.

"We were not waiting for [this run of form] and we do not enjoy it, but it's not unlikely that these kinds of things happen," Klopp told a news conference on Thursday.

"I think we only won two of the last six – that's not the standard we expect from ourselves, obviously.

"So, we don't take it easy, but we still see what we can improve, what we have to improve, and don't think everything was bad in the last few weeks.

"The league is too strong, and if you struggle a little bit, immediately the results go the other way because the opponents are fighting with everything they had. You saw that against Southampton [a 1-0 defeat on Monday]."

Liverpool must first focus on the FA Cup, however, with Aston Villa hosting Klopp's men in the third round on Friday.

Last season's run to round five was Liverpool's best under Klopp, with the Anfield outfit eliminated from four of their past six ties against fellow Premier League sides, only beating Everton (in 2018 and 2020) in this time.

The Reds had reached the semi-final in the final season before Klopp's appointment, losing to Villa in the last four to end a six-match winning run against Friday's opponents in the competition.

Despite his underwhelming record in the competition, the manager says Liverpool have always been determined to succeed.

"It's important. It's the FA Cup," he said. "We didn't go far so far in this competition.

"I didn't think we were blessed so far with sensational draws so far and now we go to Aston Villa, which is a tough one as well.

"We always took it very seriously and will do this time as well, but we cannot forget the intensity of the period we are in and all these kinds of things.

"It's important – football games are important. We are professional football players or coaches or managers and the only thing we have to do is to win football games and to try to make sure that we really can do that. It's a very important competition, so we will try to win that."

Liverpool were beaten 7-2 by Villa in the Premier League this term, shipping seven goals in a single match in any competition for the first time since 1963.

Klopp is therefore reluctant to name a weakened team, even with the United game on the horizon.

"We need to find the balance to field a team where we didn't change too much," he said. "We bring in fresh legs again.

"The rhythm [for returning players] is a different issue. That's step by step. We cannot do that in one game. We can't use the FA Cup to give players rhythm – the opponent is just too strong for that.

"After the Aston Villa game, we have eight days between Villa and Man United, so that's a long training week where we can do a lot of stuff in 11-v-11 situations, which will help the players a lot, especially the players who were out for a while. After that, we will be in a different place."

Pressed on specific injuries, Klopp added Naby Keita would return "soon" but not this weekend and Liverpool "will try" to have Joel Matip back for Manchester United, although Diogo Jota is still wearing a brace on a damaged knee.

Page 7 of 8
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.