Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers facing a massive month on all fronts

By Steven Beacom

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was proud of his players after the League Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

And rightly so.

Over 210 minutes of exhilarating football, the Reds matched the best team in England almost every step of the way.

Ultimately, though, the contest ended in defeat, with Jose Mourinho's men coming out 2-1 aggregate victors following a 1-0 win in Tuesday's second leg.

You could argue that Liverpool lacked a little bit of luck over the two games. What they lacked more than anything, however, was finishing power.

In the first match at Anfield, the Merseysiders had 19 attempts on goal, scoring just once thanks to a stunning piece of skill from Raheem Sterling.

In the return at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, the visitors had 16 attempts and fired blanks every time.

Yes, Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was in fine form making some exceptional saves, but home and away Liverpool gave the Belgian opportunities to be a hero.

One goal from 35 efforts is not an acceptable strike rate.

They need to be more clinical than that. Daniel Sturridge's return can't come quickly enough.

After a poor start to the campaign, Rodgers halted the slide, got Liverpool playing again in a style more suited to his philosophy and eased the pressure on himself.

Brendan is clever enough to know, though, that another poor run and he'll be under the spotlight once more.

From now until the end of February will tell a tale. Next week Liverpool face a tricky FA Cup fourth round replay at Neil Lennon's Bolton.

Given the FA Cup represents Steven Gerrard's last chance to make it to Wembley before departing for Los Angeles, it will be intriguing to see if the skipper plays having been rested for the Anfield tie.

Liverpool will also soon be involved in Europa Cup action against Turkish outfit Besiktas while in the Premier League there's a derby at Everton and games against Southampton, Spurs and West Ham, a trio all above the eighth placed Reds in the table.

The challenging run starts with the confident Hammers visiting Anfield. Rodgers was right to ditch Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing when he did, but if they deliver for West Ham on Saturday, some will use the pair as a stick to beat the Ulsterman with.

This is a big month for Liverpool's players and their boss. They could do with still being in the FA Cup and Europe and in contention for the top four by the end of it.

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