Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers vows to bounce back from Liverpool's big-game failures

By Carl Markham

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers hopes his players will learn from another chastening big-game defeat after admitting his side were inhibited by their Wembley appearance.

Philippe Coutinho's third FA Cup goal of the season gave the Reds the lead after half an hour, but Aston Villa fought back to win the last-four encounter 2-1 through Christian Benteke, with his ninth goal in seven games, and Fabian Delph.

It was Liverpool's second semi-final disappointment of the season, having lost out to Chelsea over two legs in the Capital One Cup in January, while there have been a number of other times when the Reds have failed to rise to the occasion.

They could only draw when needing to win at home to Basel to extend their Champions League campaign beyond the group stage, while having got within a victory of the top four they recently lost back-to-back matches against Manchester United and Arsenal to see their hopes of a return to Europe's elite take a nosedive.

Rodgers has a relatively young squad but he has rejected suggestions they struggle to overcome the mental barrier associated with big games and hopes they can take something useful from their defeats.

"We've come close now in two competitions but failed to make the steps," he said.

"We've reached two semi-finals, we need to have the courage now to play better in the big games because we didn't play well enough (against Villa). Technically we weren't quite on it. We looked like the occasion got to us a little bit.

"Sometimes you can want to win too much. Hopefully in the future we can learn from that. We've come up short in a few games, it's something we need to improve.

"All these experiences will make them better. We're a team that's grown and changed quite a bit in the summer and all these experiences will hopefully help in the future."

Defeat ended the fairytale hopes of Steven Gerrard making his final appearance for the Reds in an FA Cup final on his 35th birthday before moving to Los Angeles Galaxy in the summer.

But with all the pre-game focus on the Reds captain it was Delph and 19-year-old Jack Grealish who stole the show, booking Villa's first FA Cup final appearance since 2000.

"The bigger the stage the better he plays, he relishes it and that is a sign of a good talent," Villa boss Tim Sherwood said of Grealish.

"If you give him instructions he sticks to the plan. He's got a big future at the club; he's very durable, he's a big guy, he's only a kid and he's still learning."

Delph is far more established and after committing his future to the club by extending his stay recently, Sherwood is hoping he goes on to greater things after making the midfielder his captain soon after he took over from the sacked Paul Lambert in February.

"He had an opportunity to go to some of the teams in the top four and he's shown a lot of loyalty to Aston Villa and questions were asked why," Sherwood said.

"He'll do for me, I need characters like that who are willing to put themselves on the line and show that sort of spirit for the club.

"I've never seen him have a bad game at Wembley. He can add goals to his game. He has so much energy he can get into the final third and score.

"He's nicked a couple of goals already and I want to encourage him to do that, and he'll be too expensive for anyone to buy."

Pool defender Kolo Toure, meanwhile, insists a "sad" Gerrard will deal with the reality of being denied his dream farewell.

The former Ivory Coast international said the team were probably more disappointed at not being able to deliver a trophy for the fans.

"You feel bad. It is always difficult when you lose a semi-final like that," Toure said.

"The defeat is the thing. Of course we wanted to do very well for the last game of Stevie for the club but at the end of the day, we wanted to do it for the fans because this club deserves to have a trophy.

"He (Gerrard) is fine. Of course he is sad, like all the dressing room, but he has been in this game for a long time and he knows how to deal with these situations."

Gerrard was able to start the match after an injury to Lucas Leiva in training, which denied Liverpool some much-needed control in midfield.

However, Toure insisted they should have had the ability to cope without their only genuine defensive midfielder on the pitch.

"Lucas is a great player but we had other players who could do the job to the required standard," he added.

"Collectively we simply were not very good. Aston Villa really fought and gave everything to win the game and they deserved the win."

Belfast Telegraph


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