Since their early elimination from the Champions League, along with a poor end to 2014 in the Premier League, all hopes for hardware in Liverpool rest upon the FA Cup. The team has rallied around the new motto “get Stevie G to Wembley.” Entering a sixth round battle with Blackburn, all signs pointed to advancing to the semi-finals at London’s famous stadium.
Instead, despite possessing the ball for 71% of the game and denying Blackburn any true goal scoring opportunities aside from Alex Baptiste’s header – which Simon Mignolet beautifully kept out – Liverpool have not so far found their way to Wembley.
A completely lopsided match saw Liverpool in the attacking third of the field for much of the game, but the ball only found the back of the net when Kolo Touré scored from an offside position. Finishing with a 0-0 draw, Liverpool will now have to travel to Ewood Park for a replay. This is surely an inconvenience, as the replay will likely occur in between the ever-important Premier League games in Liverpool’s future, including matches with Manchester United and Arsenal.
The worst news from this draw may not even be the replay, however. In recent weeks, I have described centre back Martin Škrtel as Liverpool’s “rock” in the back, as he has been the one player who has remained consistent as Liverpool’s defence has seen many makeovers this campaign. In the match with Blackburn, Škrtel was upended by Rudy Gestede about two minutes in, and landed awkwardly. A scary seven minutes or so followed, as Škrtel was attended to by medical staff, but no movement was visible on his part. Eventually, he was carted off of the field, and, thankfully, he gave a thumbs-up on his way out.
The most important thing here is to hope for good health for the Slovakian, but we must also look at the impact this will have on the Reds. With Mamadou Sakho hopefully making his way back, Liverpool’s most effective back-three was set for a reunion, but it doesn’t look like that will be the case.
If Škrtel is out for an extended period of time, look for Kolo Toure to assume his role in the centre, with Sakho returning on the left and Emre Can moving back on the right. Dejan Lovren has flashes of strong play, but there is too much nervous defending from him, and his poor positioning put Liverpool in a few bad situations against Blackburn. If Liverpool are to succeed in the league and continue the FA Cup run, Lovren must improve or just be replaced.
Can played in the midfield yesterday, where many have inferred that he will find his permanent spot in the future. However, he did not have a strong performance, as he didn’t seem to gel with Jordan Henderson the way Joe Allen or Steven Gerrard (when healthy) do. It was actually painful to watch Can call for the ball every time the Reds were on the attack, because when he didn’t get the ball he showed visual frustration, but when he did get the ball, he turned it over often. Maybe the future for Can is in the midfield, but, for right now, he and Liverpool are both better off with him playing in the back.
On the attacking side of the ball, opportunities were there, but the usually dynamic players like Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana seemed off. Raheem Sterling was the only player who made things happen throughout the duration of the match, as Daniel Sturridge did better in the second half after disappearing in the first 45 minutes. Lazar Marković looked better than he has in past performances, so it was a bit disappointing to see him come off for Mario Balotelli. However, Balotelli was able to create some solid opportunities for the Reds, but of course, none were cashed in.
If Liverpool are to win matches, Coutinho is the player who needs to control the tempo in the attacking third. He wasn’t getting a lot of touches in the first half, and most of his touches in the second half came near midfield, as Blackburn was phenomenal in containing him close to the goal. Jordan Henderson, the other player who has been instrumental in Liverpool’s resurgent attack, worked hard yesterday, but just wasn’t the same as we saw against Manchester City or Burnley. Perhaps that has something to do with, as I had mentioned, an ineffective pairing with Emre Can.
With eight days until their next match, Liverpool does have time to rest after a tough three game spell this past week. Facing Swansea next Monday will hopefully yield a good result, and then comes the tough part. Hosting Manchester United at Anfield and then travelling to London to play Arsenal will be a tough test, especially if the replay is thrown in between those matches.
Brendan Rodgers certainly has a lot of work to do with the squad, especially if Martin Škrtel is out for a long time. Give credit to Blackburn, but Liverpool should have absolutely won the match. With this bump in the road, tough times are surely ahead for the Reds. Not many positives can be drawn from yesterday, but at least we know one good thing: we can still get Stevie G to Wembley. It won’t be easy though.