Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes an early injury to defender Dejan Lovren highlighted why he chose to name a second-string side in bowing out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Wolves on Monday.
Klopp made nine changes to the side that lost narrowly for the first time in the Premier League this season to Manchester City on Thursday, with Lovren one of only two players to retain their place.
However, the Croatian pulled up with a hamstring injury after just six minutes and was replaced by 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever.
“Hamstring, is what I heard – without any signs before,” said Klopp on what forced Lovren off. “I asked everybody, no signs, nothing, just out of the blue, so that’s the decision you have to make.
“I am not sure what you all would have said if immediately from the beginning if our centre-half situation was Fabinho and Ki-Jana; then probably a few very smart people would tell me that I don’t respect the competition or whatever.”
Goals from Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves either side of half-time sent the hosts into round four, where they will face Shrewsbury or Stoke City, despite Divock Origi’s fine strike briefly bringing Liverpool level after the break.
Hoever’s introduction meant Liverpool fielded three teenagers for the majority of the match with Rafael Camacho and Curtis Jones also handed debuts.
However it was the visitors’ most experienced player, Milner, who was at fault for the opening goal when Diogo Jota caught the former England international in possession in midfield and put Jimenez clean through for the Mexican to score his seventh goal of the season.
Without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool were struggling to get any momentum going forward.
But the visitors were level out of nothing when Origi collected a loose ball on the edge of the area six minutes into the second period and smashed the ball high past John Ruddy.
Wolves, though, have made a habit of upsetting the Premier League’s established top six in their first season back in the top flight.
After beating Chelsea and Tottenham and holding City, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League, Liverpool can now be added to the list of scalps for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side thanks to a wonder strike from Neves.
“He has talent, he has done it before and we encourage him to shoot from range,” said Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo. “It was a good strike.”
Only a brilliant save from Ruddy denied Xherdan Shaqiri a stunning equaliser and Liverpool a replay as the Swiss’s free-kick was touched onto the inside of the post by the Wolves goalkeeper.
Klopp had a final roll of the dice by throwing on Salah and Firmino for the final 20 minutes, but even their firepower failed to spark a fightback and Klopp’s team selection will now be seriously questioned as he is still to deliver a trophy in his four seasons in charge.
However, with Liverpool still in pole position to deliver a first league title in 29 years, the German coach defended his selection to minimise the chance of his stars suffering injuries.
“We played a similar line-up and had three tough games in the last couple of weeks, so it was clear we had to change,” Klopp added after a run of four Premier League games in 13 days over the festive period.
“The intensity of the last few games gave me the information it was not possible to start with these three up front. Only Dejan played a lot of games in the last three or four weeks, pretty much all the games…He played today and was injured.”