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'I'm so proud, this is really exciting' - Neil Critchley looking forward to managing Liverpool in Klopp's absence

Ann-Marie Donelan
Ann-Marie Donelan

09:11 17 Dec 2019

Jurgen Klopp will not be on the line for Liverpool's Carabao Cup quarter-final tie at Aston Villa tonight.

The Reds boss will be in Qatar for the FIFA Club World Cup, with his first-team squad.

Therefore, the club's U-23 manager Neil Critchley will direct a youthful side, which is set to include the Republic of Ireland's underage goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, as they bid to make the last four of the competition.

Critchley, who formally played with First Division side Crewe Alexandra has spoken of his joy at being given such an opportunity.

"It’s so exciting for me and the staff around us. It can’t help but feel like you’re part of that with them. It’s exciting for me to share this moment with them, it will give me a lot of pride.

"As long as we learn from it and reflect on the experience, it can only benefit these young players. Hopefully, people will look at these young players and people will think they can be players of the future.

"Quarter-final of the league cup at Villa Park, you expect a great occasion. As long as we’re there for each other and play like a Liverpool team can do, we can’t control everything but we can guarantee certain things."

A number of the side to line out tonight made their debuts for the club in their win over Arsenal in the last round, where Cork youngster Kelleher was the hero - saving Dani Ceballos' penalty in the shoot-out in front of the Kop.

Critchley says that the experience of that night that saw 10 goals in normal time will stand to the young players tonight.

"It was an unbelievable evening. Part of my job as a young coach is to try and put the players in situations where they learn from being outside their comfort zone.

"The group that has been together are together constantly. It’s not a group that’s been thrown together. It’s important we go and play like a Liverpool team. The pressure from us will be from the staff to the players to go and play like a Liverpool team."

As well as the excitement that has clearly encapsulated Liverpool as a club in recent times with their recent Champions League success and incredible run of form in the Premier League, Critchley is well aware of the expectations that come with managing one of world football's powerhouses.

He says Klopp and the players in Qatar will be interested to see how they get on.

"I’m sure with modern technology they’ll be watching it. The manager shows a great interest in the young players, I can come and speak to him all the time. He knows who they all are.

"We’re very fortunate our manager believes in young players and gives them an opportunity. The mentality that the manager breeds in the first team players here seeps into the academy as well. You can’t help being influenced by what goes on above you and I like to think that our young players have a similar mentality to what our first team players produce on a weekly basis.

"We’ve got to be there for each other from the first whistle. We always try and dominate the game, we know that will be difficult tomorrow.

"I hope they go and prove to everyone watching tomorrow night what they’re capable of.

"It’s a great opportunity for everyone, myself included. I’ll be very proud to lead the team out tomorrow night but the pride I’ll have is to see how far the players have come. When I stand on the touchline tomorrow night I’ll be proud of those on the pitch."

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Caoimhin Kelleher Carabao Cup Liverpool Neil Critchley

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