Explained: Are Liverpool allowed to play youth team in FA Cup over winter break row?

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Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2019-20
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The Merseyside club find themselves in a tense standoff with the Football Association regarding the scheduling of a replay

Jurgen Klopp's frustration got the better of him after Liverpool were held to a draw in the FA Cup fourth round by Shrewsbury, a result which means the Reds must contest a replay on February 4.

With another fixture added to the Merseyside outfit's calendar - at the beginning of the inaugural Premier League 'winter break', no less - Klopp stated that he and his first team would not play the game.

Instead, contended the German coach, Liverpool's Under-23 team would play, with Neil Critchley taking his place in the dugout at Anfield.

“You cannot deal with us like nobody cares about it. I know that it's not very popular but that's the way I see it," Klopp said in an interview with the BBC.

“The Premier League asked us to respect the winter break. That's what we do. If the FA doesn't respect that, then we cannot change it. We will not be there."

The comments sparked a frenzied debate about the integrity of England's oldest football tournament, with football fans decrying the perceived arrogance of big clubs, and Klopp was even branded "a disgrace".

It looks like Klopp won't back down on the matter, but is effectively boycotting a replay allowed?

Are Liverpool allowed to play their U-23s in FA Cup?

Whether Liverpool are allowed to go ahead and play their Under-23 team in the replay against Shrewsbury is ultimately at the discretion of the Football Association.

Official FA Cup rules state that "each team participating in a match shall represent the full available strength of each competing club" ('Provisions Concerning Players 15.a.').

However, it's clear that the rule is not strictly enforced, when you consider the fact that many clubs regularly opt to rotate players or play somewhat weakened teams in the competition - prioritising other commitments.

Lovren Shewsbury Liverpool 2020

Nevertheless, to deliberately play the U-23 team instead of the senior team would be a major violation of the spirit of the rules.

Indeed, if Liverpool send their U-23 team out at Anfield against Shrewsbury with Neil Critchley in the dugout, it could potentially be argued that Liverpool's senior team have failed to fulfil the fixture.

If that was found to be the case, the FA could conceivably take disciplinary action against the Premier League club, which could see them fined or potentially expelled from the competition. 

Of course, Klopp could choose to maintain a presence on the touchline and include fringe senior players to hold up the pretence of a first-team squad for the FA, but it would be transparent given his comments.

The FA, for their part, were surprised at Klopp's comments in the wake of the draw with Shrewsbury, but the German remains steadfast in his position, claiming that he is making a stand.

Why are Liverpool playing their U-23s in FA Cup vs Shrewsbury?

The issue of fixture congestion is at the heart of Klopp's protest regarding what type of Liverpool team will play their FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury.

The Reds boss is frustrated that the date of the replay falls during a period that was intended to form part of the Premier League's inaugural 'winter break'.

Before the replay was confirmed, Liverpool's last game before the break was due to be against Southampton on February 1, with a rest period of two weeks before their next game on February 15, against Norwich.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2019-20

Klopp said: "The mid-season break is now something that has to be settled for the next years and all the different parties need to find a solution, so it will not be like this year again, where it's possible that you have one [a break], but you may not.

"We do it (playing the U-23s) to make a clear standpoint, and again, if people call me lazy or disrespectful to cup competitions, it's all not true.

"Every year we are trying to find our way through the season and it's absolutely okay, it's our job, but if then part of these long-term plans is a mid-season break, then it has to be a mid-season break and you cannot get it [taken] away a week before you have it. That's not possible."

Has it been done before?

Yes. Liverpool played a second-string team in the 2019-20 Carabao Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa due to a scheduling with the Club World Cup. That team was managed by Neil Critchley and lost 5-0.

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In that case, however, the club reached an amicable agreement with the EFL, which was happy with Liverpool's commitment to field "a team that is largely consistent with those that have participated in earlier rounds" of the competition.

Interestingly, the EFL cited their own rule (Regulation 6.5.) regarding clubs playing teams of 'full available strength', but their rule notably included the caveat of "unless some satisfactory reason is given".

Manchester United famously withdrew from the FA Cup entirely in the 1999-2000 season in order to participate in the 2000 Club World Cup (then known as the Club World Championship), which was held in Brazil.

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