Aston Villa overwhelmed Liverpool’s youngest-ever starting line-up to cruise into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

With the Reds’ senior players in action at the Club World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday, under-23s boss Neil Critchley led a side containing five debutants and which had an average age of 19 years, six months and three days.

While Villa made 10 changes from their Premier League defeat at Sheffield United, their vastly superior experience ensured they lived up to their favourites tag at Villa Park.

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Liverpool began brightly – and indeed enjoyed significant spells of possession throughout the match – but conceded two freak goals in the space of three first-half minutes to allow the hosts to settle.

First, Conor Hourihane’s free-kick from the right deceived Caoimhin Kelleher, and the Reds keeper then saw an Ahmed Elmohamady cross deflect off Morgan Boyes and loop over him into the left corner.

Jonathan Kodjia added Villa’s third with a cool finish after Jota’s through ball, before the Ivorian swept in Elmohamady’s cross from the right.

Wesley completed the scoring for the hosts, who reached the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since 2012-13.

Five-times winners Villa head into a two-legged semi-final in January, although manager Dean Smith might view forthcoming league matches against Southampton, Norwich and Watford – the three teams below them in the table – as arguably of greater significance.

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A unique game
Significant statistics were plentiful as the teams were confirmed.

At an average of 19.48 years, it was the youngest line-up in Liverpool’s history, eclipsing the 21.81 in an FA Cup tie against Plymouth nearly three years ago.

The starting side boasted a paltry 16 previous first-team appearances for Liverpool between them while their shirt numbers added up to 737.

None of the Liverpool players were alive the last time Villa won a trophy, when they beat Leeds to win this competition in 1996.

By the final whistle, there was a more sobering statistic. This was Liverpool’s heaviest League Cup defeat, eclipsing a 4-1 loss to West Ham in 1988 and a 6-3 reverse by Arsenal in 2007.

Of course, given the unique circumstances, the result should almost come with an asterisk. Football statistics do not work like that though, so into the record books the result will go.

Elliott’s impressive contribution
When Harvey Elliott made his first EFL Cup appearance, he was so young he had to get changed away from his team-mates on child protection grounds as he was still to reach his 16th birthday.

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He is still not old enough to drive and can’t turn professional until his 17th birthday in April but Elliott is clearly talented and against Villa underlined why Liverpool were so keen to persuade him to move north from Fulham in the summer.

It was Elliott’s early shot that forced Orjan Nyland into a one-handed save when the game was still goalless and he provided a terrific pass that allowed Isaac Christie-Davies to go close later in the half.

He played on the right wing but it is his cultured left foot that is his key weapon, making difficult passes look easy and always offering a threat to the opposition – even when they are seasoned professionals – when on the ball.

Watching from Liverpool’s team hotel in Doha, Jurgen Klopp is sure to have been impressed, as was Critchley, Elliott’s boss in Birmingham.

Job done for Villa
This was a fixture Villa knew was a ‘no-win’ scenario.

Assuming it turned out as it did, it was always going to be dismissed as exactly the result that was expected. If they had lost, though, ridicule would inevitably have followed.

As it turned out, Smith’s side were professional and clinical, ensuring there was no need to call on substitutes Jack Grealish or John McGinn.

It was a good night for Villa’s £11m striker Kodjia too, who has been restricted to 41 minutes of action in the Premier League this season.

With first-choice forward Wesley struggling for form – the Brazilian’s injury-time effort was his first in 10 games going back to 5 October – Kodjia’s two-goal contribution was well timed.

The Ivorian’s first goal in particular required a calm finish after he raced clear following a mistake by Boyes.


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