Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admits it is tough to ask his youngsters to fill the gaps left by absences to more senior players.
The Reds boss fielded three teenagers – Rhys Williams, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones – in the 2-0 Champions League defeat to Atalanta after making five changes and leaving out the likes of Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino.
Klopp is trying to manage the workload on his squad, with his pet-hate 12.30pm kick-off against Brighton next up on Saturday, but with eight senior players out injured there is little room for manoeuvre.
He apportioned no blame to the academy graduates and said they should not be criticised for the insipid display which made Liverpool’s progress from Group D that little bit more difficult.
“The kids did really well, all of them,” said Klopp.
“It is a tough task for the kids; we ask them to show up in the Champions League and play their best football and people sit there (and say) ‘Oh, he’s good… oh, he’s not that good…’ and stuff like this.
“They all did well: Rhys did well, Neco did well and Curtis played again like a 26/27-year-old midfielder.
“They didn’t get tired during the game, which is helpful. They did really well, the kids were really good.
“We didn’t have rhythm. We made five changes and that obviously gives you a few problems with rhythm, but we usually get through a game.”
In the wake of the Atalanta defeat Klopp labelled Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off as a “crime” – not the first time he has used that description.
He had some better news on the injury front with captain Jordan Henderson back in training on Thursday, which is a boost as his midfield is currently looking very thin as he awaits the return to fitness of Thiago Alcantara, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The Reds boss accepted full responsibility for his team selection gamble but he received some sympathy from former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher.
“That’s the dilemma now with managers this season and certainly Jurgen Klopp,” he told American network CBS.
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“When you play Wednesday night and you have a Premier League game on Saturday 12.30pm you have to use the squad.
“I am sure he will get criticism, but I think before the game, you looked at the team and said ‘That is the team he has to play’ and keep two eyes on the Champions League and Premier League.
“Jurgen Klopp has been quite vocal about it and he has had a lot of criticism about it as well but I can totally understand where he is coming from.”