No matter what the outcome of Sunday’s FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Aston Villa, the game will surely define both team’s seasons. Both clubs have as much to play for in the Premier League, but for markedly different reasons, so this cup tie will provide a welcome distraction for both managers, players and the long suffering supporters of these much vaunted and historic teams.
Interestingly, there is little to differentiate the two clubs in terms of form over the past six matches. Liverpool have gained 12 points over the period, whilst Villa’s haul is a far from shabby ten points.
Tim Sherwood seems to have made a difference to the players’ confidence and this has manifested itself in brighter performances and a more fluid and attack-oriented brand of football. The upturn in the club’s season has also co-incided with a return to form and fitness for Christian Benteke, and some stellar performances from Ron Vlaar in marshalling Villa’s previously porous defence.
Villa will be mindful of their league position. Although their form has improved, they are still only four points above the relegation zone. Whilst the success-starved Villa fans crave cup success, they would surely prefer to remain in the Premier League. It may well prove to be the case that the two go hand in hand, but there is a danger that victory in the Semi Final could deflect from the team’s plight and with this in mind, the Semi Final might not have as much importance for Villa as it does for Liverpool.
Whilst Villa’s season has resembled a car crash at times, the Reds’ current campaign has consistently stalled at the hands of some bizarre selection decisions made by Brendan Rogers allied to some incredibly inept performances from a number of the players he has bought.
Liverpool have not always looked convincing, even when they were winning games, and Rogers’ belief in the young players he has bought during the past two summers has sometimes looked like a fool’s errand.
The ongoing saga of Raheem Sterling’s contract has alerted a host of clubs to his possible departure, and a Wembley semi-final gives him the perfect opportunity to put himself in the shop window. However, he needs to deliver on the biggest of occasions to justify the tag awarded to him by Brendan Rogers who described him as Europe’s best young player. Like so many Liverpool players this season, his performances have hardly enhanced his reputation, though this may be as a result of being used in so many different positions by the manager.
The FA Cup Semi Final now represents Liverpool’s only chance of silverware in a season that should have been marked by the continued evolution and growth of the team. Instead, Liverpool’s transfer policy has looked calamitous at times, not least in the purchase of Mario Balotelli and a couple of defenders, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno, who have yet to master the art of defending. Rogers and the Transfer Committee have to take the blame for this.
An FA Cup victory would probably consign the Liverpool faithful to another season of Brendan Rogers stewardship, a defeat against Villa could signal the start of the end of his tenure at Anfield. If he does leave at the end of the season, then a failure to win trophies will have been the reason the club dispense with his services. However, some of the football has been abject, most noticeably the recent defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal.
The board will be looking very closely at the performance in tomorrow’s Semi Final and a defeat would cast a very long shadow over the club. Whether Brendan Rogers will still be in the hot seat remains to be seen. However, given Villa’s recent form, and the re-emergence of Benteke, then it is not inconceivable that this might happen.
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