OpinionPaul McGrath

From sweet FA to glory

Hats off: Brendan Rodgers
Hats off: Brendan Rodgers

If Liverpool win the FA Cup and secure a place in the 2015/6 Champions League, then we will have to take our hats off to Brendan Rodgers for one of the great managerial efforts.

Back in December, the Scousers were down and out and some people were calling for the manager’s head on a plate. They were out of the Champions League and mid-table in the Premier League, the great promise of last season seemed lost and gone with Luis Suarez.
But the turnaround has been dramatic, thanks to Rodgers’ calmness in the crisis, to the return to fitness of striker Daniel Sturridge and the fact that Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson have stepped up and given leadership, authority and direction to a sinking season.
Not even Steven Gerrard’s announcement that he was leaving Anfield in the summer has upset the Liverpool progress.
I really like the way Coutinho has played of late. He’s a class act and gives his team so many attacking options with his passing and vision. Remembering the way Jo and Fred lumbered through the World Cup last year, doing poor impersonations of Brazilian footballers, it is beyond belief that Coutinho was left out of their squad for the football fiesta. What was Luiz Felipe Scolari thinking of?
Maybe it was to Liverpool’s benefit that Coutinho had a full summer off, for the lad has been one of the stars of the Premier League this season. I’m really keen on him and it was a decent bit of business by Liverpool to get him signed to a long-term deal a while ago.
What Liverpool have done over the past three months is not unusual. Teams can turn bad situations around with hard work, trust in the manager and in your team-mates and a lot of straight talking to get rid of whatever poison is in the system.
When I was at Aston Villa we endured a couple of very bad months such as the Reds did in the opening phase of the season. It was just like Liverpool’s situation, as we’d been very close to winning the title, but just didn’t kick on.
It took a few meetings between lads, and with the management, to get things sorted. Back in those days, there was no harm in having a few of those ‘meetings’ in a corner of a boozer over a few pints. It was simply  the way then. Players could get things off their chest about what was going wrong and it did actually serve as team building
Of course, you can’t do that any more. Premier League players drinking pints together would be all over social media in seconds now if their club was going badly. So I suspect the Liverpool talking was done in the privacy of the dressing-room or in the meeting-room at Melwood. But wherever it was, or whatever was said, it has certainly done the trick for them.
It’s right that Liverpool should be somewhere near the top of English football. They are a great club that has been out of the domestic limelight for too long. But now they have the hard part ahead of them, turning the recent good run into a trophy or a place in next season’s Champions League.
As long as Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling stay fit, I believe they can achieve one, if not both, of their ambitions.
Liverpool should win this afternoon. They will be far too strong for Blackburn and, because of the penalty shoot-out defeat to Besiktas 10 days ago, they have no European commitments. So there is no pressure on Rodgers to field a weakened side today.
He knows as well as anyone that with Man United or Arsenal going out of the FA Cup tomorrow night, the road to Wembley and the FA Cup final is wide open for them.