Rodgers desperate to put FA Cup semi-final ghosts to bed at Wembley

Brendan Rodgers’ last Wembley outing signalled the beginning of the end for his Liverpool reign as disastrous 2015 FA Cup semi-final defeat ruined Steven Gerrard’s fond farewell… he’ll be aiming to put those ghosts to bed when Leicester face Southampton

  • Brendan Rodgers makes a long-awaited return to Wembley Stadium on Sunday
  • It’s almost six years to the day since Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Villa
  • Rodgers was Liverpool manager for that game and was blamed for the Reds’ exit 
  • Now he’s back with Leicester and will be desperate to put those ghosts to bed 

Playing at Wembley is often heralded as a ‘dream come true’ by the lucky few who get there, with its tag of being the ‘Home of Football’ seen as a fitting destination for English clubs up and down the country.

A trip to the north west London borough of Brent often means that silverware is within touching distance, giving players and fans the chance to live out childhood dreams of achieving glory under the iconic arch.

However, for Brendan Rodgers, revisiting the ground where dreams are made could very well be the stuff of nightmares.

Brendan Rodgers’ last outing at Wembley ended in disaster after his Liverpool side were dumped out of the FA Cup semi-final by underdogs Aston Villa

On Sunday, Rodgers and his Leicester City side make the trip south to the capital for an historic FA Cup semi-final with Southampton, where 4,000 fans will be in attendance – the first time this year spectators have been granted access to a live sporting event in England.

However, for Rodgers, the game has a slightly different significance attached to it. 

It will be almost six years to the day since the Northern Irishman last stood on the touchline at Wembley after he guided Liverpool to the same competition’s semi-final, with his former Reds side labelled as the heavy favourites to make the final.

Having come within inches of masterminding Liverpool’s first ever Premier League title the season before, Rodgers developed a reputation of slipping up just before the finish line, while his wait for his first piece of silverware as a manager continued.

It is almost six years to the day since Liverpool were dumped out of the FA Cup by Villa

Liverpool had a very favourable run in the FA Cup that season, beating the likes of Wimbledon, Bolton, Crystal Palace and Blackburn on their way to a last-four encounter with Villa, where they were once again odds on to progress into the next, and final, round.

But with the FA Cup seen as their final shot of silverware that season after being dumped out of the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup just a few months prior, Rodgers cracked under the pressure.

Liverpool got off to a flying start when Philippe Coutinho glided into the Villa box before slotting the ball past Shay Given on the half-hour mark, drawing first blood in front of 85,000 fans.

For a brief moment, Liverpool fans began to dream of what could be achieved having already taken the lead against Tim Sherwood’s Villa side, who were strong candidates to go down that season.

Philippe Coutinho got Liverpool off to a brilliant start on the day, scoring the first-half opener

It promised to be the ideal farewell for club captain and legend Steven Gerrard, who announced he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.

But while Liverpool fans were dreaming of a fairytale finish, they were soon brought crashing back down to earth when Christian Benteke equalised six minutes later.

Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph were thorns in Liverpool sides at Wembley, with the two superbly linking up down the left before Delph’s pull-back to the top of Liverpool’s area saw Benteke calmly place the ball past compatriot Simon Minglot in the Reds net.

Villa’s equaliser sent the other half of Wembley into rapturous celebrations while Liverpool fans were now left fearing the worst.

However, six minutes later, Christian Benteke (left) would score Villa’s equaliser

The Belgian striker, who would later sign for Liverpool, celebrates scoring the equaliser

Villa then turned the result around when Fabian Delph (middle) scored a second-half winner

Their nightmares were soon realised when Benteke, Grealish and Delph combined again once more in the second half but it was Delph who would finish off the chance.

After setting Benteke away with a ball out to the left, the Belgian striker brought Grealish into the frame with a backheel, before the now-Villa skipper played a disguised ball into the box for Delph.

With two defenders around him, Delph danced past either man’s challenge to score the winner, sending Villa into the final and Liverpool crashing out of the competition.

Rodgers admitted after the game that Liverpool lacked a big-game mentality problem and conceded that his players struggled with the pressure of the occasion at Wembley.

Rodgers took the blame for the defeat, claiming his Reds team were second best on the day despite boasting the firepower of Coutinho, Gerrard and Raheem Sterling.

It was Steven Gerrard’s (middle) last appearance in the FA Cup for boyhood club Liverpool

It was a bitter end for Gerrard, who had announced earlier in the season that he would leave the club at the end of the 2014-15 campaign

‘We’re obviously bitterly disappointed, more with the performance,’ Rodgers said after the game. ‘You can always lose a game but you’d hope you play well and give yourself an opportunity. I thought we were second best today, to be honest, I thought they were better than us.

‘We have reached two semi-finals, we need to have the courage and bravery to play better in the big games. We didn’t play well enough today, technically we weren’t quite on it, we looked as if the occasion and the energy got to us a wee bit. But that’s what can happen sometimes. 

‘We’ve come up short in a few games. That’s something we’d certainly need to improve. We’re a team that’s grown and changed quite a bit in the summer. But all these experiences will hopefully help in the future.’

That future of winning silverware with Liverpool would never come for Rodgers, who was sacked six months later after a poor start to the 2015-16 campaign.

After coming to close with Liverpool while yet being so far from glory, Rodgers picked himself back up when he took the Celtic job after seven months out of work, and would gain the ruthless title-winning streak he so desperately needed at Anfield.

During his two-and-a-half years in charge at Celtic Park, Rodgers won back-to-back domestic trebles before winning his final piece of silverware – the Scottish League Cup – during the 2018-19 campaign.

After a disappointing end to his Liverpool stint, Rodgers went on to win titles at Celtic

While he was on course to win a treble of trebles at Celtic, Rodgers decided it was time to return to the Premier League midway through the season, where he joined the Foxes in February 2019.

His attacking and fluid brand of football at the King Power has been lauded by many, with Rodgers turning the Foxes into major force in English football and has seen his stock as a manager rise again.

After guiding Leicester to a ninth-place finish in the final few months on the 2018-19 season, Rodgers was on course to gatecrash the top four as his Foxes side held their own in the first half of the season, mainly occupying second and third in the table up until the pandemic brought football to a grinding halt.

Following football’s restart months later, Rodgers’ reputation of cracking under pressure reared its ugly head once again, with Leicester winning just two of their last nine league games, which saw them have to settle for Europa League football after such a promising start.

Now, six years after that semi-final exit, Rodgers is hoping to right his wrongs and reach an FA Cup final with Leicester – but they must overcome Southampton at Wembley on Sunday

History is now threatening to repeat itself this season, with Leicester – who are currently third – struggling in the latter stages of the campaign and are being hunted by West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool for their place in the top four which looked so assured just a month or so ago.

However, with Premier League football taking a backseat for Leicester this weekend, all eyes are on Rodgers and his Wembley return.

Just like six years ago, it’s Rodgers’ team who go into the semi-final as favourites with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Saints side currently struggling for form.

Rodgers will be desperate to finally put those ghosts of six years ago to bed by booking Leicester spot in the May showpiece. 

But as history continues to haunt Rodgers, he will be daring to dream when he takes to centre stage once again on Sunday.

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article