Jurgen Klopp lauded by Liverpool U23 boss Neil Critchley ahead of Shrewsbury replay
"We're going to have players who are eligible to play in the U18s. People say we are a U23 team, we’re not. We're U19-U20 at best."
By Liam Grace
Last Updated: 04/02/20 6:07am
Neil Critchley has thanked Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp for his "unbelievable support" ahead of the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury on Tuesday, with the U23s set for a "unique" night at Anfield.
Liverpool's U23s will represent the first team in the replay, with their manager Critchley in the dugout, as he was when the club fielded the same squad for their 5-0 defeat to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
Shrewsbury's Official Supporters Club accused Liverpool and Klopp of a lack of respect towards the Sky Bet League One team and the competition itself, after two-goal hero Jason Cummings secured the shock second meeting, with a trip to Chelsea awaiting the winners in the fifth round.
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U23s boss Critchley defended Liverpool's decisions and admitted he did not think he would get another opportunity to lead the team.
"I never thought it would happen once, let alone twice," Critchley said. "I'm really looking forward to what will be a special night. The young players will get a unique opportunity.
"I think the manager has made it quite clear with his statement and what he said prior to the game. He gives myself, and the staff, unbelievable support.
"I can speak to him whenever I like. He supports the young players unbelievably well, as he has shown so far this season.
"His presence is always felt even if he isn't there. Especially by our younger players, and me myself.
"I also think that the way we played against Aston Villa, he may have felt that the boys deserved another opportunity."
Accrington Stanley chairman Andy Holt was critical of Liverpool's decision to play the U23s, accusing them and Klopp of "killing the FA Cup", while the Premier League leaders have slashed ticket prices for the replay.
"We're going to have players who are eligible to play in the U18s," Critchley added. "People say we are a U23 team, we're not. We're U19-U20 at best.
"There are always people talking about young people not being given an opportunity in this country, well these players are getting an opportunity tomorrow night and they already have this season, because that's what this manager does.
"Is there more pressure on Shrewsbury to win the game now? Possibly. But that might work in our favour."
Quizzed on injury news, Critchley said: "Other than Yasser no that's it. I could mention names but most of you probably don't know who they are!"
Shrewsbury manager Sam Ricketts believes Anfield is the perfect stage for his players to impress again in the FA Cup.
Having already played six games in the FA Cup this season after replays in the first and third rounds, Ricketts told the club website: "We are here because we take the early rounds of the FA Cup so seriously.
"We want to create memories and moments like this. It will be an occasion, like the first game was, that everyone involved will remember for the rest of their lives.
"This is our seventh game in the competition this year. We have earned this replay, we have come through some tough games to get to this point. We want to enjoy this moment by doing the right things.
"The occasion will be fantastic. It will be a big occasion for the Liverpool players if they do change the team around. They won't have played in a packed Anfield in a proper competitive game."
Who are the Reds' kids?
Ironically, a number of the youngsters have been the best performers in the FA Cup this season and five of the side who started against Shrewsbury are likely to be in the XI for the replay.
Toxteth-born 19-year-old Curtis Jones has scored in both matches, including a brilliant winner against Everton, and has made seven first-team appearances.
Pedro Chirivella, 22, is another who has impressed in the FA Cup, while Harvey Elliott, the 16-year-old summer signing from Fulham, Wales youth international Neco Williams and Larouci - providing he passes a late fitness test - will meet the Shrews again.
Midfielder Leighton Clarkson, 18, who travelled to Shropshire, but did not make the final squad, is also likely to play. Another summer arrival, 18-year-old Sepp Van Den Berg, who came from PEC Zwolle, will play in central defence along with another Dutchman Ki-Jana Hoever, who also has some first-team experience.
Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, 21, has made three Carabao Cup appearances for the club this season. Striker Joe Hardy, who only joined from Brentford last month, looks likely to play up front.
Who is Neil Critchley?
The U23s coach came to wider public attention in December when he was put in charge of a youthful side to play the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Villa 24 hours before the first team played in Doha.
Critchley, a former junior player at Crewe, moved to Liverpool in September 2013 having been academy director at the Alex for six years. Working in the Reds' academy, he took charge of the U18s until stepping up to the U23s in 2017 to allow former midfielder Steven Gerrard to begin his coaching career with the younger players.
Critchley was also handpicked by The Football Association to take UEFA's first elite badge course and one of the highest-graded coaches in Europe.