Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Steven Beacom: Liverpool FA Cup flops shocked by dose of reality

Oldham players celebrate Matt Smith (centre) scoring against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon

They are calling it the weekend when, at last, the magic of the FA Cup returned. Given the performances, application, desire and stunning victories of Oldham Athletic, Luton Town, Millwall, Milton Keynes Dons and Leeds United, they have a point.



It was also, however, the weekend when the soft underbelly of so called Premier League superstars was laid bare for all to see.

To be frank some of these highly paid, over-rated footballers with egos the size of the Grand Canyon just didn't seem to be bothered in the FA Cup ties.

Little wonder Brendan Rodgers, brought up in Carnlough watching the finals when they were the only live games shown on television, was so upset with most of his players following their shock defeat to Oldham on Sunday.

The Ulsterman sent out a team that was well capable of overcoming their League One opponents.

Yes, there were several youngsters in the starting XI, but there was also enough experience and quality in the line-up to see off whatever spirited, determined display Paul Dickov's side had to offer.

Or so Brendan thought until he witnessed a weak-willed showing lacking heart, fight and brainpower until Steven Gerrard came on with a third of the fourth round clash left.

The damage had been done. Despite Gerrard manfully doing all he could to pull the Reds out of the mire again, Oldham, battling like their very existence depended on it, won 3-2 to send the majority of those inside Boundary Park wild at the final whistle.

Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates had such a nightmare against the big, bustling, previously released by Cheltenham two goal forward Matt Smith, that the boogie man may never leave the Uruguayan's head.

Reds goalkeeper Brad Jones, Martin Skrtel, Jack Robinson, Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini were awful too.

And as for Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, they were so out of tune on Sunday it looked like their blossoming relationship had hit the rocks.

Yet most of these players had shone in recent weeks in the Premier League, where of course all the facilities are fantastic, pitches are near perfect and rough and tumble tackles and tactics are kept to a minimum.

Going to Boundary Park, Oldham, on a freezing cold, wet day when the opposition charge into you like rampaging wildebeest is a bit different, isn't it?

Clearly Liverpool's players couldn't handle the culture shock leaving Rodgers fuming.

It was fascinating to hear his thoughts after the defeat, which I’ll bet hurt him more than most of his players.

“These are different games to the Premier League: Premier League games are nice, you go in and teams will pass the ball and give you time to get your shape,” he said.

“These games are a different type of football, you have to roll your sleeves up be strong and aggressive and unfortunately for us there were too many who weren't.

“It is just a different type of football where you have to stand up and be counted. It is great to put young players in but you have to have personality and the young players disappointed.”

It wasn't just Liverpool who let the Premier League down at the weekend. Chelsea were lucky to leave Brentford still in the Cup after a late equaliser from Fernando Torres earned a replay while out of touch Aston Villa were beaten on Friday night by Millwall.

Again you have to question how many of the Chelsea and Villa players, both youngsters and experienced professionals, fancied the hardly luxurious surroundings of Griffin Park and the New Den.

The venues in which the other major Cup shocks took place suggest that Tottenham, Norwich and Queens Park Ranger players need to take an even longer and harder look at themselves in the mirror.

Pitiful Tottenham, with most of their players appearing as interested as two year old child watching the news, lost to Leeds in the modern stadium that is Elland Road, while QPR and Norwich were both humiliated on their OWN grounds by MK Dons and Luton Town, who are a non-league outfit for goodness sake.

The lack of character on show from the QPR and Norwich players had respective bosses Harry Redknapp and Chris Hughton looking more embarrassed than Eden Hazard at a convention for ball boys!

Ultimately it all comes down to attitude. This weekend too many Premier League performers didn't have the right one.

At least nine of the last 16 clubs in the FA Cup will now be from outside the top flight.

It'll probably be Manchester City v Manchester United in the Cup final, but after the weekend and the appalling manner in which certain big name, big money players approached it part of me that would love to see Luton Town v Oldham at Wembley in the decider, though that might be stretching the magic of the Cup a little too far.

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