Not many people – myself included – thought there was much chance of Aston Villa defeating Liverpool in this weekend’s FA Cup Final.
Despite the fact that Tim Sherwood’s side have looked impressive in recent weeks, and despite the unreliability of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool team, I still felt sure that the Reds would be the side celebrating come the Wembley final whistle.
And yet, as Sherwood seems to have done on several occasions in his short managerial career so far, he surprised us.
In front of over 85,000 people, Villa frustrated Liverpool, and then held it together when it mattered to clinch the winner early on in the second half.
For Villa, things are looking up. Not only do Sherwood’s side have an FA Cup final to look forward to against Arsenal on the 30th of May, but this hard-fought win against a good Liverpool side outfit no doubt gives them the renewed confidence they need to secure their Premier League status for another year. With the Villains lying five points above the drop-zone with five games to go, it seems likely that they’ll have enough in the tank to keep them up ahead of that showpiece final at the end of next month.
For Liverpool, things aren’t looking quite so rosy. After spending £100 million in the summer, Rodgers was always going to be expected to deliver, and the reality is that despite a few good spells of form – especially of late – the Reds just haven’t done enough to count this season as a success.
Not only has their League form been patchy all year, but this latest setback in the FA Cup confirms the fact that as yet, Liverpool have failed to prove consistency in the big games – the ones with real high pressure.
With Gerrard set to depart in around six weeks, things are changing at Liverpool, and the question is whether Rodgers truly is the right man to preside over those changes. Credit must be given to the Northern Irishman for the way he has eked out more consistent League performances from his men, but the facts remain the same – Liverpool have had a far inferior season to last year after spending a significant amount of money. In short, they’ve gone backwards.
The likelihood is that the Liverpool board will be merciful and grant Rodgers another full pre-season and a chance to make things right; but with rumours of players being unhappy, and a number of stars refusing to sign contracts, it seems that not all is well at Anfield. How Rodgers responds this summer will be one of the defining points of his tenure. With the right recruitment and some sensible planning, he could bring Liverpool close to the Champions League once again. Whether or not he is able to is another question entirely.