Neil Critchley

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James Milner supports young Liverpool FA Cup squad at Anfield

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Alisson went home to Rio. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Adam Lallana vacationed across the pond to Miami. Fabinho and Roberto Firmino soaked up the sun in the Maldives.

Not James Milner. He spent his February break in the 45-degree Anfield cold with the Liverpool youth team.

With Reds boss Jurgen Klopp giving the first team its February hiatus unchallenged, the manager instead sent the youth team to play in the FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury Town, winning the match 1-0 on a late own-goal. Milner was on hand to watch the young squad, even training with the team before the match and giving a team talk as well. According to one report, he was even one of the most excited figures in the post-match dressing room after the victory.

It certainly helped that he was due at Melwood for recovery from a muscle injury that has forced him to miss the last month of action, but his presence with the youth squad clearly had an impact on both the players and the boss.

“He trained with us yesterday and that obviously gives a boost,” said 18-year-old Neco Williams, who was part of the matchday starting lineup for Liverpool. “For him to be here today, to be in the changing rooms giving us advice, cheering us on I thought it was unbelievable from him. All the lads will cherish that. It was a special night for a lot of us, a night that we’ll remember for a long time especially the debutants.”

“He trained with us yesterday and he asked whether he could come along. I think the answer is: ‘Yes, of course you can.’ It was very respectful to ask,” said youth team manager Neil Critchley, who took charge of the FA Cup game for Liverpool with Klopp also on holiday. “He then said: ‘Can I come in the dressing room?’ What do you think? ‘Of course!’ He was giving words of advice, he was getting right behind the players. He was vocal in the dressing room. He was animated. He was vocal behind me, I could hear him. He was genuinely delighted at how the boys performed and I can’t thank him enough.”

Milner, known for his no-nonsense personality and his dedication to the game, seems form fitted to this kind of action. The 34-year-old has been with Liverpool since joining from Man City in 2015, making 205 appearances for the Reds across all competitions.

The Premier League’s brief February break sees the club have two weeks off, with its next match coming against Norwich City on February 15. This year is the first that a break was built into the schedule.

Klopp, Milner plays role in helping Liverpool kids advance in FA Cup

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Liverpool U-23 boss Neil Critchley oversaw a dominant performance from his senior player-free squad in a 1-0 FA Cup defeat of Shrewsbury Town.

He was in the dugout watching a number of debutants control the League One side because Jurgen Klopp refused to change his club’s winter break plans.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

It was a controversial choice, but the kids made sure it looked like a stroke of genius.

Critchley was sure to credit the big boss Jurgen for his pre-, halftime, and post-match comments.

“Jurgen gives you clarity and belief. “Play the Liverpool way!” This is us, this is what we do, what we stand for, what we believe in and you better be ready for it. From the first minute, I think we did that.”

It also helps that Critchley got a hand from one of the on-break senior players.

James Milner, he of the 721 career senior appearances, was keeping himself fit and asked if he could train with the kids and spend the matchday with them.

“He was very respectful to ask, he asked if he could come in the dressing room. ‘Of course!’ He’s achieved so much in the game. He was giving words of advice to the players, he was vocal in the dressing room. I can’t thank him enough. He’s not available yet but he was certainly jumping up and down behind me, itching to get back.”

And now Liverpool is alive for more silverware, with a trip to Chelsea ahead.

It’s a bit too easy to heap praise on risks when they pay off, but this does truly seems like an example of why Liverpool as a club is succeeding in so many areas. Milner’s class. Klopp is class. And obviously the U-23 coach knows what he’s doing as well.

When Klopp phoned the youngsters at League Cup halftime

Jurgen Klopp
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
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Jurgen Klopp isn’t breaking from his vacation to sit in the dugout at Anfield during Tuesday’s FA Cup match with Shrewsbury Town, but he’ll be watching just as he did in December’s League Cup outing.

Liverpool is fielding a youth side in another domestic cup round. In December, it was because the club had Club World Cup duty in a few days and Klopp didn’t want to break up his squad.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ].

This time around, the replay falls during the Premier League’s winter break for Liverpool and Klopp’s Reds weren’t willing to miss out on time off during a grueling campaign.

Whether you approve of that or not, it’s happening.

And so U-23 boss Neil Critchley will be in the dugout while a mostly teenage side tries to deal with League One opposition under the bright lights of Anfield.

He and the boys may even get a call from a watching Klopp, who rang up the team room at halftime of the 5-0 loss to Aston Villa.

From the BBC:

“Even though we were going off the pitch at half-time thinking, ‘We’ve played all right there but we’re getting beat 4-0’, it creates that element of doubt in your mind about whether you are doing the right thing and if you need to do something different.

“So when you get a message from the manager saying, ‘Don’t change anything, carry on doing what you’re doing, you’ve been brilliant’, it just clears all that doubt in your mind and you can give that message to the players.”

It’s a little bit different this time; It felt like the majority of people were on Liverpool’s side over the first scheduling hiccup, as surely FIFA or the FA could’ve helped a bit more.

Klopp calling from the road was very much an, “I still see you” bit of recognition. And even if many believe Klopp is in the wrong to not oversee his youngsters on Tuesday, the kids aren’t going to hold him in any less high regard. Who knows? Maybe another phone call will do the trick and lead to a victory.

Liverpool ‘immensely proud’ of kids performance in League Cup

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Liverpool’s youth-filled lineup showed well for itself in an extraordinarily difficult trip to Aston Villa on Tuesday.

The League Cup quarterfinal saw a Reds side with very little experience visiting a near full strength Premier League side.

[ RECAP: Villa 5-0 Liverpool ]

Ivorian international Jonathan Kodjia was simply too much for the teen-heavy Reds in a 5-0 win for Villa, but Liverpool still managed to outshoot the hosts 15-11 and hold 58 percent possession.

The manager for the day was 41-year-old Neil Critchley, who normally runs the rule of the U23s. He was emotional and impressed with his side.

“I thought we were magnificent. We were fantastic from the start, we had a couple of chances from the first whistle. We were really unfortunate to concede and find ourselves 2-0 down. It was an incredible night and no one wanted it to end. The support we had was unbelievable.”

Critchley said Villa boss Dean Smith and assistant John Terry were sure to prop up the kids after the game, who were put in a very difficult position by fixture congestion and Jurgen Klopp‘s preference to take every single veteran to the Club World Cup in Qatar.

“The conduct of the Villa players was first class. For Dean Smith and John Terry to come in to our dressing room after the game and say the things they said. They said ‘keep going, good luck’ and wished us the best. The moment I will remember and the players will remember for the rest of their lives.”

It was a great showing by the kids despite the score line, and Liverpool can be very proud. Youngster Harvey Elliott showed why he was signed with such hype, and goalkeeper Caoiminh Kelleher made a number of cool saves.