Liverpool suffer Wembley heartache as an impressive Aston Villa side come from behind to record a surprise, but ultimately deserved, 2-1 victory…
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was robbed of Daniel Sturridge and Lucas Leiva through injury but restored Martin Skrtel and club captain Steven Gerrard to the starting eleven after suspension.
Impressive young winger Jordan Ibe was cup-tied, after playing earlier in the competition while on loan at Derby County, so Serbian acquisition Lazar Markovic came in to the team that had defeated Newcastle United in the Premier League on Monday night.
An even opening period saw goalmouth action limited to a number of speculative efforts from distance; Charles N’Zogbia going closest of all.
Tactically Villa were clearly trying to replicate the recent success Arsenal had enjoyed against Liverpool’s back three by playing widemen N’Zogbia and Jack Grealish narrow and pushing them high up the field in support of Christian Benteke.
Tim Sherwood’s men looked dangerous as a result but suffered a blow in the 26th minute when defender Nathan Baker, ironically making his first start since the league meeting at Anfield on January 17, succumbed to a knee injury.
Liverpool, who had now switched to a back four, took the lead shortly afterwards when Baker’s replacement Jores Okore, followed by Fabian Delph, failed to clear the ball on the edge of his own area, allowing Philippe Coutinho to capitalise via a smart Raheem Sterling pass.
The Brazilian, who had already scored pivotal goals against Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers in the Reds’ cup run, was aided by a deflection but understandably nobody in yellow cared.
It was a short-lived lead though as Delph made amends for his mistake by breaking forward, exchanging passes with Grealish and teeing up Benteke, who slotted expertly past Simon Mignolet.
The strike enhanced Benteke’s fantastic record against Liverpool, which already featured 4 goals in 5 Premier League meetings.
Spurred on by the equaliser, Villa began to threaten with every attack, although Dejan Lovren had a decent headed opportunity at the other end in the 42nd minute.
Rodgers made a change at the break, boldly replacing the ineffectual Markovic with maverick Italian striker Mario Balotelli.
N’Zogbia and Gerrard, who was another Liverpool player who had struggled to make an impression so far, exchanged wayward efforts in the early minutes of the second half.
Shortly after a deflected Benteke effort had tested Mignolet, Villa went in front through another well-worked goal; Benteke and Grealish combining this time and Delpth adding the finishing touch by firing low into the net.
Liverpool were looking increasingly nervy and could have found themselves further behind shortly after the hour mark but Kieran Richardson skied a presentable chance on his weaker right foot.
The Merseysiders were offering very little in the attacking third from open play but looked slightly more dangerous from set-pieces as Villa began to play largely on the counter-attack.
Glen Johnson replaced Joe Allen in the 78th minute, allowing Can to move into a more natural midfield role.
Time was beginning to run out for Liverpool and other than another Lovren header they continued to fail to muster any prolonged periods of pressure on Given’s goal.
One finally came right at the death as Gerrard and Balotelli went close with headers and a poor off-side decision harshly robbed the latter of an equaliser.
Regardless of the errant flag, it was deservedly Villa’s day.
A very poor display and ultimately a pretty depressing end to a disappointing season. We struggled to get going all game and too many players looked lethargic and unwitting to take charge. The game passed many by, including Gerrard and Henderson, as Delph and co. dominated the centre of the park. Credit to Villa; they were vibrant throughout and the pace of their pressing and attacks often resembled us at our best under Rodgers. Speaking of Rodgers, he needs to come under the spotlight for some of his decision making during the game. Repeatedly switching and tweaking the formation changed nothing and only seemed to confuse some of the players. Quite why Balotelli was thrown on at the interval certainly needs explaining as his contribution since arriving certainly didn’t warrant such an opportunity, especially in a game where we were already second best when it came to effort and desire. The remainder of the season will now be a subdued affair as Gerrard’s Anfield career ends on a whimper.
Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno (Lambert 91′), Allen (Johnson 78′), Henderson, Gerrard (c), Markovic (Balotelli 45′), Coutinho, Sterling.
Unused subs: Jones, Manquillo, Toure, Borini.
So that’s what we thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your verdict below or vote in our MOTM poll to the right…
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