Liverpool desperate for cup glory to save season from ruin
Brendan Rodgers is seeking cup redemption after losing ground in the race for the Champions League, but the Liverpool manager knows that the club's quest for silverware will end at Blackburn Rovers if they defend as they did last Saturday.
Rodgers has called for significant defensive improvement in the FA Cup quarter-final replay at Ewood Park tonight, aware that Gary Bowyer's side are capable of claiming another major scalp, having already dispatched Stoke City and Swansea City.
The Liverpool manager said his side would lose if they performed as they did at the Emirates Stadium.
"I think so. We didn't defend (at Arsenal)," Rodgers said. "First of all, we didn't defend the ball well enough; we gave the ball away in poor areas for two of the four goals.
"Over the last few months we have defended really well. We had six clean sheets against good opponents and defended very well away from home.
"The minute you come off it, and if you come off it against good players, you get punished."
The absence of Martin Skrtel was significant against Arsenal and Emre Can's suspension is another setback for tonight's match. Rodgers must also plan without Steven Gerrard, who misses the second of three games due to his sending-off against Manchester United.
The Liverpool manager must decide whether to persist with his 3-4-3 formation, or revert to a flat back four - a possibility which would enable Glen Johnson to return at right-back and potentially pair Daniel Sturridge with another attacker.
There is a danger of Liverpool's season unravelling, although Manchester City's defeat on Monday and a potential cup semi-final means that the next two fixtures could shift the mood again.
"I don't want to go down the route of saying that (the cup will save Liverpool's season)," Rodgers said. "Our objective was to win a trophy. I think if we didn't get in the top four and we didn't have a trophy this year, we ourselves would be disappointed.
"I think the FA Cup would give us a great boost as a team with lots of young players and players coming into the club.
"That's the expectancy we want. We want to be able to be challenging every year. That was the key thing, to get the group challenging at the top end of the league and for trophies. The FA Cup would mark a good step forward.
"The last two results and performances have been disappointing but there is still so much left in the season for us.
"The seven league games we have left offer 21 points and you never know - the teams above us still have difficult games to play.
"Our attitude and our mindset is to get to the FA Cup final and win it and we will be fighting to the very end in the league.
"There is everything still to play for and we can still make it a really successful season. The important thing is to remain calm and get over Saturday's defeat. We have analysed the performance and that allows us to do that and to move forward."
There is a theory that Liverpool's inexperience has shown at key moments in the past two years, their most recent two games a further example of falling short against rivals when it seemed the momentum was in their favour.
Rodgers believes that having a young side had its pluses and disadvantages.
"It can work both ways. You can have young players who have no fear," he said.
"As a team we haven't performed well in the last two games and the results are the consequence of that. Now we have to think about getting back to how we played in that run of games. We know we need to win but it's about how we play.
"It's just about preparing them on the training field and looking to reinforce the confidence. We have the benefit of analysing our performances, looking at why we played well and why we won games, and it is about retaining that. You have to continue to work and be positive."
Blackburn are as unlikely to reach the Championship play-offs as Liverpool are to qualify for the Champions League. For both sides, this will be the final throw of the dice this season.
If Rudy Gestede is passed fit to play alongside Jordan Rhodes, the Blackburn manager, Gary Bowyer, will be able to pick strikers with 32 goals between them to face a Liverpool defence without two key members.
However, Josh King, whose hat-trick crushed Stoke in the fifth round, has not played because of injury since late February and is unlikely to start.
Swansea were the first Premier League club to be knocked out by Blackburn this season and there were under 6,000 fans at Ewood Park that day. Tonight, with Wembley beckoning, it is likely to be sold out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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