Neil Critchley hopes his youthful Liverpool team will show that they learned lessons in defeat by Aston Villa when they take on Shrewsbury Town.
The U23s boss will lead a young Reds side in Tuesday night’s FA Cup fourth-round replay against League One opposition at Anfield.
Critchley was in charge as a team of Academy players lost a Carabao Cup quarter-final at Villa Park in December - and he wants to see evidence that his players absorbed the experience of how that tie unfolded this time around.
“I was really proud of the performance and I thought we never gave up our way of playing, but at the end I also couldn’t help feeling a little bit disappointed as well,” Critchley told Liverpoolfc.com of that night.
“Two reasons: one is, I thought 5-0 was a harsh scoreline, I thought it was cruel, I didn’t think we actually deserved to get beat by that scoreline. But also the lesson we have to learn is: yes, the middle of the pitch is important but it’s not as important as what goes on in both boxes - and we weren’t good enough in both boxes.
“When you’re going into a results-driven business that can decide the games so if we don’t defend well enough in the moments we have to defend on Tuesday night and if we create chances and don’t take them, that’s not a good recipe for getting a good result.”
Ahead of the meeting with Sam Ricketts’ side, Liverpoolfc.com sat down with Critchley at Melwood. Read on for his pre-match thoughts…
Watch Critchley's pre-match press conference
It’s a massive occasion ahead for your players. Just how tough of a test will it be for them?
I think when you’ve got young players who are learning their way in the game, learning their trade, learning their craft, who are going up against experienced players who know the game better than our players and know how to put their game into the game, I think that maybe gives them an advantage. But obviously our aim is to play our way and try to make it a game that suits us. I just see it as a great opportunity to play in an FA Cup tie at Anfield under the lights and I just hope that our boys go and play how I know they can play.
What has your analysis of Shrewsbury told you about their style of play?
They’re extremely hard to beat, are well organised and they have a threat on the counter-attack. They have some good players. I look at the divisions now and just think that they are stronger, they’re getting stronger. Shrewsbury have got a manager who has had a very good career himself, helped by Graham Barrow who has got unbelievable years of experience in coaching and managing, so they’ll know exactly what they’re doing on the pitch. They’ll be well prepared and we know it’s going to be really tough. They stayed right in the game against us in the first game and got their rewards from that, so if we want to get anything from the game we’re going to have to play extremely well.
Right foot 🆚 Everton Left foot 🆚 Shrewsbury Town Curtis Jones can do both! #EmiratesFACup #SHRLIV https://t.co/a8mCI4K9Eu— EmiratesFACup (Emirates FA Cup) 26th Jan 17:21
Two players who faced Shrewsbury at New Meadow nine days ago are Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott. How have they developed this season?
They both play in a similar way: they’re both creative players, they both like to have the ball, attack people, always have their head up and can play final passes, but they really have an enthusiasm for the game. They want to play, they’re hungry to play, they want to prove themselves and Tuesday night gives them another opportunity to do that. They’ve both been a pleasure to work with this season, and obviously they’ve been at Melwood a lot as well and for them to have the experience of being around senior players and the manager and the staff, particularly this season with it going so well, has been invaluable for them. I’ve seen them grow as people, they’re maturing.
Generally, how has the attitude of all the players who have been around the first team this season but have then returned to U23 level been?
I was going to say ‘unbelievable’ but they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, they don’t do anything that I don’t expect them to do because I suppose it’s what standards you drive at the Academy that you want to pass on to Melwood. I think you only have to look at the first team, the way they play the game and the culture that they have is driven by the people and if you’re not a good person then you don’t fit in. If you come back to the Academy and act any differently or think you’ve made it, you won’t fit in either and you’ll find yourself on the side, so when they’ve come back they’ve been carrying on like they’ve normally been doing. I think that’s just something we try to build and improve on. They’ve been like they’ve always been and I suppose that’s great credit to them as people.
Will the relative senior experience of those players be important against Shrewsbury?
Yeah. We’ll have a young team out but there will be some experience of playing in this type of scenario or game before, so hopefully they can help some of the other younger players who have not had that experience, or not as much experience, and I’m sure they’ll do that in the way they play. We talk about bravery and courage, that can be done in so many different ways and I’m really intrigued by the game and looking forward to seeing how they do. I hope the supporters will be too.