Wednesday 13 December 2017

Ben Woodburn makes Liverpool history as Reds put Leeds to sword

Ben makes history in Cup win for Klopp's men

Liverpool's Ben Woodburn celebrates scoring their second goal Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine
Liverpool's Ben Woodburn celebrates scoring their second goal Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine
Liverpool’s Divock Origi celebrates

Chris Bascombe

Remember the name: Ben Woodburn. A difficult night for Liverpool ended in history as the teenager from Chester confirmed his side's place in the semi-final of the EFL Cup.

At 17 years and 45 days Woodburn eclipsed another Cestrian, Michael Owen, in the Kop roll of honour - appropriately, the former striker was in attendance to see his 18-year record broken. "Another record taken from me," tweeted Owen.

How Jurgen Klopp needed the intervention of his youngsters. Leeds United had summoned the ghosts of their past to acquit themselves superbly at Anfield and were threatening a shock.

But another of Liverpool's Academy starlets Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered the perfect cross for Divock Origi who struck on 75 minutes for the second consecutive home game.

Woodburn's moment came on 81 minutes, the set-up from Georginio Wijnaldum allowing the youngster to slam the ball into the top of The Kop goal to spark intense celebrations.

Klopp's only regret when blooding the teenager last weekend was the attention he'd receive. He'll be helpless to prevent a publicity surge after this essential contribution.

Regardless of Leeds' current standing, this remains a fixture that evokes memories of Shankly versus Revie; Keegan against Bremner; Smith versus Hunter. There was a time when the match between these clubs determined who was the best in England, and they would often contest that at Wembley. The visiting fans packed into the Anfield Road end last night relished an opportunity to revisit the grandest of stages - this is a stadium in which they were once generously applauded for becoming the champions.

"We're not famous anymore," was their chant this time. How they must consider their Championship status unworthy of their history.

Not that the gulf between the sides was obvious, as Liverpool's multiple changes made them unrecognisable in style as much as personnel in their scruffiest performance of the season.

If Garry Monk arrived with more hope than expectation, his confidence swelled as the game progressed.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp congratulates Ben Woodburn Picture: Reuters
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp congratulates Ben Woodburn Picture: Reuters

As in the previous round, Klopp's selection reflected how the Premier League is the priority. Nevertheless, that was hardly an excuse for the sloppiness that the home side exhibited for so much of the evening.

It was not so long ago that Simon Mignolet, Lucas and Alberto Moreno were first choice. Sadio Mané, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum do make the Premier League XI, yet they had none of the fluency to which Anfield has become accustomed of late.

The inclusion of Mané and Divock Origi was more through force than design, with Klopp's options limited in Daniel Sturridge's absence. How the England striker - the most able deputy forward in the country, if not Europe - was needed.

The Brazilian Lucas was a fitting captain for the night as English football paid its respects to the victims of the Chapecoense plane crash. A period of silence remembered them.

Yet for all the strength in the hosts' line-up, Leeds began well and Hadi Sacko should have struck as early as the third minute. Eunan O'Kane benefited from Liverpool's defence playing offside on the strikers and forgetting the deeper runner. Sacko had only Mignolet to beat at the Kop end but struck the Belgian's legs. It was an early warning, and Kemar Roofe ensured it was no rare foray into opposition territory when he tested Mignolet from 20 yards after 11 minutes.

Liverpool's attack was toiling and its midfield lacked snap. The worry for Klopp is many of these players are those that need to step up during Philippe Coutinho's five-week absence.

Wijnaldum forced Marco Silvestri into his first meaningful action on 12 minutes, but the home side's most dangerous opening of the first half arrived courtesy of careless defending.

Substitute Kalvin Phillips - a replacement for O'Kane - underhit a back pass, enabling Can to challenge ahead of Silvestri. As with much of Liverpool's play before the interval, his intervention lacked the necessary conviction and the ball trickled wide.

Inevitably Liverpool showed more urgency after half-time, pushing Leeds' defenders into a retreat mode, but they looked as likely to concede. Only the woodwork prevented the visitors taking a 52-minute lead.

Kevin Stewart was sloppy in possession, caught by Charlie Taylor on the edge of Liverpool's penalty area as he tried a drop of the shoulder too many.

Roofe's right-footed shot had Mignolet well beaten but the ball struck the post and bounced to safety. If Klopp was wary of extra-time, that reprieve demonstrated there was as much danger of Liverpool going out to the enterprising visitors as vice versa. Roofe, Souleymane Doukara and Ronaldo Vieira were excelling for Leeds.

It was Leeds who were threatening most at that stage, Roofe continuing to find space. He should have done better when sent clear on 66 minutes but shot tamely at Mignolet.

Klopp had to make changes, although fate played a part as the introduction of Woodburn on 67 minutes was enforced. He replaced Stewart who failed to recover from a clash of heads.

The measure of how little The Kop had to encourage them was the response to the youngster's arrival. It was as if they knew what was to come.

Wijnaldum struck the post on 71 minutes as finally the home side located a pulse, Woodburn unfortunate to be denied on the rebound by Kyle Bartley's block.

Another of Liverpool's youngsters, Alexander-Arnold, was the source of the opening goal; his exquisite cross met by Origi to deflect past Silvestri.

Then Woodburn made his mark. Whatever else he achieves, he'll never forget this night. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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