Brendan Rodgers admits his Liverpool side fluffed their lines on Sunday, and has questioned the big-game mentality of his players.
The Reds entered the FA Cup semi-final date at Wembley as keen favourites to reach a first final since 2006, where they would face Arsenal who beat Reading on Saturday. And all the signs looked good for the seven-time winners of the competition, when a goal from Philippe Coutinho on the half-hour mark gave the Merseyside club the advantage over their Midlands rivals.
But this lead lasted just six minutes before the in-form Christian Benteke shot Villa level with his seventh goal in as many games, and then Fabian Delph fired them ahead nine minutes into the second-half. Despite pushing for an equaliser to take the tie into extra time, Liverpool were unable to find an answer and this left Rodgers questioning the big-game mentality of his players.
“We need now to have the courage and bravery to play better in the big games,” he said. “We looked as if maybe the occasion and the energy got to us a bit today, but that’s what can happen with young players. We have come up short in a few games and it is something we certainly need to improve. We are a team that is growing, but all these experiences will hopefully help.”
In defeat, Rodgers becomes the first Liverpool manager since the 1950s not to win a major honour in his first three seasons at the club. His focus now will return to the Premier League and a place in the top-four, yet this looks quite a task especially after Manchester City secured a 2-0 win against West Ham United on Sunday to move seven points ahead of last season’s runners-up.