The squad numbers on show betrayed any notion of a normal clash between Liverpool and Arsenal.
Gabriel Martinelli’s no.35, a glowing beacon of inexperience by normal Premier League standards, took on the role of journeyman striker embarking on a third spell in League One amongst the numbers 62, 67, 72, 76 and 77.
Across the course of the night Liverpool fielded a 16-year-old, 17-year-old, two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old, while Arsenal called upon the services of 18-year-old forwards Bukayo Saka and Martinelli.
All told there were ten players under the age of 21 on show, ranging from Harvey Elliott, who won’t be getting into a nightclub without ID for another decade, to Matteo Guendouzi, a midfielder yet to clock up 50 appearances in the Premier League.
Some rose to the occasion. Neco Williams put in arguably the best performance of any defender ever involved in conceding five goals.
Curtis Jones did enough in 35 minutes to suggest the future of Liverpool’s midfield is not only bright but local. Martinelli became the first striker since Ian Wright to score on his first four Arsenal starts.
Others sunk, as is only natural when you drop a teenager into that environment.
Sepp van den Berg’s time will come- he’s already played two seasons in the Eredivisie- but he looked lost, not helped by an equally unsettled Joe Gomez.
Whether flourishing or floundering, every player contributed to a glimpse of a Utopian footballing future.
A future that, under no circumstances, will ever materialise. A world in which every side was forced to field four players under the age of 21.
No longer would Phil Foden have to pick up the odd three minutes here and there. The ‘injury-time Iniesta’ would be transformed into a central player, both for club and country.
An 18-year-old centre-back like Eric Garcia would be able to prove himself consistently against the Harry Kanes, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyangs and Jamie Vardys of the Premier League.
Billy Gilmour would find himself pitting his wits against Kevin De Bruyne, Fabinho and Paul Pogba as he seeks to hone his craft in midfield.
Of course, it’s worth repeating that a world in which four under-21 players have to take to the pitch every game will never exist.
But there’s nothing wrong with having a dream. Anyone got UEFA’s number?
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