Neither a Zach Clough dive, nor referee Roger East’s incompetence at identifying that dive could prevent Liverpool from keeping skipper Steven Gerrard’s potential fairy tale alive. Having hit the Bolton woodwork three times, it seemed like this was to be the end of the Reds’ FA Cup run. Adam Bogdan’s heroics seemed to be repeated by Andy Lonergan in the Bolton goal. And whereas Eidur Gudjohnsen would have liked to bury some of his ghost of Anfield 2005 by helping his new side to a cup upset, instead Liverpool’s young trio of Emre Can, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho combined to help save the cup dream of Liverpool’s soon-to-be departed captain.
Away from Liverpool’s version of the romance of the oldest cup competition in the world, manager Brendan Rodgers would have been mightily relieved to have avoided an extra physically-draining 30 minutes, maybe even the mental strain of a penalty shootout, with the Merseyside derby just a few days away. With his side going through, Rodgers would have been relieved having rested midfield linchpin Lucas Leiva. Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic looked to have limped off with a knocks, but either should be fit for Saturday. While even Fabio Borini got some game time as the Reds chased the tie.
One of the Reds’ star men was, of course, Sterling, and Rodgers would no doubt have been impressed by how his young star stood up to some of Bolton’s rough tackles and aggressive play. Many times Sterling got bruised and tackled from behind, but every single time, he stood up and continued driving at Neil Lennon’s defence. Sterling then scored the all-important equaliser, but this display once again proved how much tougher and more mature Sterling has become. Bolton’s overly-enthusiastic tackling finally came back to haunt them when midfielder Neil Danns saw a second yellow for his over-the-top challenge on Joe Allen.
gerrard: the dream is still alive.
This dismissal allowed the likes of Gerrard and Coutinho more space to work with, as both tried to thread the vital final pass or find an angle to fire a shot towards goal. The Brazilian many weeks of shooting practice on both match days and in training looks to have paid off with a magnificent dipping shot that beat the impressive Lonergan.
While Emre Can has looked comfortable playing in central defence lately, the German continues to show his versatility and adaptability when he was pushed forward into midfield as the Reds chased the game. Can kept driving forward with the ball at his feet with every opportunity, and he also displayed sublime vision and magnificent technique with his lobbed pass that found Sterling for Liverpool’s equaliser. With Rodgers scouring the transfer market for a long-term replacement for Gerrard, he may have already have one in Can, who himself only arrived in the last summer transfer window. Can’s physicality is perfect for English football, his versatility proving a key asset for Rodgers, but it’ll no doubt be his continued, consistent and composed displays that could eventually see Can reach a level close to the current skipper.
Though lifting the FA Cup is viewed by many Liverpool fans as a fitting way to celebrate Gerrard’s Liverpool career with his impending departure at season’s end, winning this trophy is also another essential step that would go a long way in helping build up a winning mentality amongst the young squad which Rodgers is trying to work with. An inevitable leadership void will be apparent come the start of next season, and Rodgers will want part of this void to be replaced by more players, with a greater winning mentality, to take up more responsibilities both on and off the pitch.
It has been apparent that last season’s title-challenging squad was actually built on the supreme abilities of one man, Luis Suarez, who in turn elevated the performances of those around him and inspired his team-mates’ improvements. It has since proved to be a sort of false dawn, and now Gerrard’s departure would increase the emphasis on the squad instead of reliance on key players, and it is imperative that some silverware be secured this season to give Rodgers and his young Reds a much greater chance at another potential exhilarating title tilt next campaign.