Liverpool breathed new life into its 2014-15 campaign by solving the surprisingly difficult puzzle that was the Blackburn Rovers.
Philippe Coutinho scored the only goal in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Blackburn in a FA Cup quarterfinal replay Wednesday at Ewood Park. Liverpool booked an April 19 trip to Wembley Stadium and a semifinal game against Aston Villa with the win.
Liverpool will celebrate its progress to the last four of the soccer world’s oldest competition, but questions remain about its form as the final stage of the season approaches.
In the build-up to Liverpool’s 50th game of 2014-15, Brendan Rodgers called on his team to pass faster and show more attacking creativity than it has in recent games. The Reds largely failed to meet their manager’s expectations against Blackburn. While Coutinho’s decisive moment of magic rewarded the Reds for their overall dominance of possession and territory, Liverpool didn’t create enough clear-cut chances to sweep aside a struggling team which sits 25 places (and one division) below it in the English soccer league standings.
Liverpool had the likes of Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling at its disposal, but they didn’t link up well with deeper-lying midfielders. Liverpool’s approach often became disjointed in Blackburn’s half and the hosts’ defense was every bit as stout as it was in the goal-less draw on March 8 at Anfield.
Liverpool’s defense also wasn’t as tight as Rodgers would have hoped. The suspensions of Emre Can and Martin Skrtel forced Rodgers to revert from a three- to four-man defense in an effort to plug gaps at the back. Mamadou Sakho then suffered an apparent hamstring injury in the first half, and Rodgers responded by introducing Kolo Toure into the game.
Liverpool’s new-look set-up struggled to contain Blackburn on those few occasions when it showed genuine attacking intent. The Reds appeared vulnerable against counter-attacks and set pieces at times, hearkening back to the distressing period at the beginning of the season when they leaked goals from those very situations.
However, Simon Mignolet continued his impressive resurrection by making key saves throughout the contest. The Belgian’s dramatic improvement is one of the high points of a Liverpool season, which will be increasingly defined by how it fares in the FA Cup.
Mignolet’s suddenly steady play in goal gives Rodgers the first building block in his effort to re-shape the team on the fly, but Liverpool must find solutions to other problems. The Reds had enough energy and mental fortitude to beat Blackburn, but they were technically and tactically ordinary on the bumpy field at Ewood Park.
The Reds will face tougher opponents in the final seven weeks of the season and they must find a higher gear in their approach play and defensive intensity. Premier League opponents beckon from this point forward, and the margins between wins, draws and losses only will become thinner during the run-in and at Wembley Stadium.
Thumbnail photo via LiverpoolFC.com