Brendan Rodgers was moved to call his Liverpool side’s big-game bottle into question as they slumped to an FA Cup semi-final defeat against Aston Villa.
Speaking to reporters after the game Rodgers said:
“We need now to have the courage and bravery to play better in the big games, because we didn’t play well enough today.
“We weren’t quite on it. 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.”
The Anfield supremo was doubtless referring to recent losses against Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as last season’s high-profile failures against Chelsea and Crystal Palace.
Anyone we took in that quartet of clashes would agree that Liverpool hardly covered themselves in glory, but it cannot be right that their manager absolves himself of all blame.
Tactically his approach to the aforementioned fixtures have often been found wanting and the clash with Villa was little different.
For too long the Reds persisted with the self-defeating ploy of playing early balls into Raheem Sterling, who was never going to win a back-to-goal physical battle with Ron Vlaar and Jores Okore.
Then there was the distinct cut off between midfield and attack caused by playing two number tens (Philippe Coutinho and the ineffectual Steven Gerrard) behind the false nine.
As a result, Tim Sherwood’s hard-working troops were able to set up shop in the centre-circle forcing Liverpool wide or long.
Kolo Toure was available on the bench to deputise for Emre Can, yet Rodgers’ held fire until Glen Johnson’s introduction to push the energetic Turk further forward.
Sure enough they wrestled some late initiative back thanks to the switch, but by then their adversaries were high on adrenaline and not for pegging back.
Last season, in big games against Chelsea and Palace a naive and over-attacking approach, the kind a manager should counsel his troops against, cost Liverpool dear.
At home to Chelsea they had no need to go all out to win the game leaving gaps at the back – not losing should have been the inalienable priority.
Meanwhile, at Selhurst Park, whose responsibility but Rodgers’ was it to plot a path of consolidation when his men were three goals to the good?
This term Liverpool performed with credit in both games against Man Utd, only to be let down by Sterling’s work-in-progress finishing at Old Trafford and a faux pas from a player whose big-match mentality is beyond reproach in the return fixture.