Wednesday 24 January 2018

Ronnie Whelan: Liverpool players must take the hit for awful FA Cup exit

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard looks dejected
Liverpool's Steven Gerrard looks dejected

OUT with a whimper and if there’s one big lesson from Liverpool’s limp exit from the FA Cup, it’s that Raheem Sterling has some cheek turning down £180,000. On this showing, he’s not worth a quarter of that.

They reserved their worst performance of the season for the biggest game and now Liverpool’s season is over. That’s not a good thing to have to say with a month still to go in the Premier League and a chance to play in Wembley thrown away.

More significant than that, however, is the fact that Liverpool now have a bad habit of losing big games when pressure is on. It happened last season and I put that down to young lads without the required experience of such high intensity situations.

But it has happened again this season – Chelsea in the Capital Cup, Arsenal in the Premier League and now Aston Villa in the FA Cup. I called this squad a bunch of nearly men before and I think they have underlined the point now. There is something missing in terms of quality and experience.

With the exception of Daniel Sturridge, that was Brendan Rodgers best team, and while I know there will be calls for his head after this, I don’t see it that way and haven’t seen it that way since last July when everything began to go wrong.


If anything, he deserves credit for digging his club out of a situation which he didn’t create. On more than one occasion, Rodgers has had to stand up and take the heat for events he had no control over.

It started with Luis Suarez, continued with Mario Balotelli and Sterling has done his very best to make life difficult for the Liverpool manager when he should be doing the opposite.

It would be unfair to pile all the responsibility for that on Rodgers shoulders. His players let him down against Aston Villa and it’s not the first time that has happened this season.

I have to say, I fear for the summer now. Sterling has been a destabilising force at the club and this has become more and more serious since the first inkling that he would not sign a contract emerged.

I wouldn’t mind if he was whacking in goals from all angles and inspiring Liverpool to every greater performances, but in reality, the opposite is the case.

Under normal circumstances, you would be asking for space and patience with a young lad like Sterling but he has set the tone for this debate and if he wants to be paid big money, he has to deliver big performances.

Liverpool were unlucky to meet an Aston Villa side working off adrenaline and the shot of energy Tim Sherwood has injected into his players but even the team which was struggling under Paul Lambert three months ago would have won this one.

While I was struggling to contain my annoyance at the way Liverpool were playing, I took the time to take a close look at Jack Grealish and I have to say, Martin O’Neill should be outside this lad’s door with a gold embossed invitation to join up with the senior squad for the game against Scotland in June.

I wondered about Grealish and whether his reputation was built on a lot of hype around a decent prospect or a proper critical assessment. On the basis of this game, he is a player. I have no doubt about that.

He looked comfortable with the occasion and comfortable with his role in the game. Compared to most of Liverpool’s more celebrated players, he was far superior.

O’Neill suggested at the weekend that it would be a step too far to throw him straight in against Scotland in the Aviva but I’m not sure he has that right.

This kid oozes confidence and at the very least, it’s a great sign that he can take on an FA Cup semi-final with such poise.

The other bright spot for O’Neill was the fact that Shay Given started again for Villa, although I would have been much happier all round if he had more to do in the game.

He has a Wembley FA Cup final to look forward to and I can’t see any way that he will by shifted out of the Ireland No. 1 spot, no matter how hard that is on David Forde.

Given needs a new club in the summer and I see no reason why he cannot find one that will help him extend his international career further.

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