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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 21 January 2021


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The romantics desperately wanted to see Steven Gerrard climb those hallowed steps in late-May and raise the FA Cup trophy above his head before departing for America. But there was a lot of work for Liverpool (and Gerrard for that matter) to do before they get to that stage. 

There was little pressure on their opponents today. Aston Villa have had a sticky season but Tim Sherwood has done well since taking from Paul Lambert and they seem reasonably safe.

Could they cause a shock today?

Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to our coverage of what promises to be a riveting Cup semi-final. I have a feeling that Villa will put it up to Liverpool today but we’ll see in due course how that plays out…

First thing’s first. Here are the line-ups.

So, a couple of big news lines.

From an Irish perspective, Jack Grealish is handed another start and for a 19 year-old, what a big moment it is.

For Liverpool, there’s no Lucas Leiva. He picked up a thigh injury in training earlier in the week and hasn’t been able to shake it off.

Steven Gerrard starts while Markovic is preferred to Glen Johnson at wing-back. Looks like a 3-4-2-1 for them today with Sterling through the middle and Gerrard and Coutinho playing supporting roles.

A nice touch from Villa today but is it cynical to think how much attention players will pay to these supportive messages? They’ll probably have their headphones on, banter with their team-mates and get changed.

Also, unlikely Sherwood will seek any inspiration during his team-talk other than his own words.

On BT Sport, Jake Humphrey and the lads have just done some walking along the touchline. Snazzy.

Will it be Benteke who proves the difference? Or could it be a Cup semi-final cult hero? Nathan Baker to bundle home a corner from close range? Maybe Joe Cole from the bench?

Big deal being made of Agbonlahor’s injury. Always a huge doubt whenever it’s a hamstring problem so no real surprise.

Ciaran Clark is also out because of medial ligament damage and looks set to miss the rest of the season too.

Almost underway. Final predictions everyone?

Nice piece here by our Ryan Bailey on the significance of Grealish’s appearance this afternoon.


Early involvement for Grealish as he wins a free-kick after Can brings him down. Some good early energy from the youngster.


Good pressure from Liverpool in the last few moments but the game still taking time to settle. Meanwhile, on BT Sport…


Tom Cleverley goes missing down the right side and Coutinho races clear. Heads towards the area, gets his head up and sends it across for Joe Allen. He takes it first time but it’s off target and Villa survive. Moments later, Henderson tries his luck from distance but it’s a poor effort.


Grealish pops up on the shoulder of Benteke and takes the lay-off, charges into the area and gets a corner. Then, he combines with N’Zogbia who whips in a cross and it’s just too high for the Belgian striker.

Flag 11Mins

VERY CLOSE! Villa have found their stride here. Benteke is proving a handful as he’s under high balls but also making runs into the channel and dropping deep. Liverpool defenders appear to be struggling with how to deal with him. Here, N’Zogbia pops up with an excellent drive from distance that Mignolet tips it over.


Liverpool can’t make the ball stick here and Villa are dominating possession. Making some neat shapes in midfield but look vulnerable to the counter attack still.


Great chance for Villa as N’Zogbia breaks down the left and tries to find Benteke but some last-ditch defending from Liverpool prevents them from breaking through.


It was Lovren who made that saving interception, by the way. He’s had a tough campaign so credit where it’s due!


Sterling pops up in the area after Gerrard finds him. But thinks he’s got more time than he really has. Takes an age to set himself up to shoot and Delph gets back to dispossess.


Grealish pops up again and slides it across to Cleverley who pushes into the area. He ends up on the ground but there’s no foul. More Villa pressure though.


It looks like Liverpool have gone to four at the back having struggled to gain any sort of momentum here. We’ll keep an eye on how this progresses.

Flag 25Mins

HUGE blow here for Villa. Nathan Baker, who’s only in the team today because Ciaran Clark is injured, goes up for a header and lands awkwardly. It looks like he’s tweaked something and he has to come off.

Flag 26Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Baker (off) – Okore (on)

Sherwood was raging on the touchline as soon as Baker went down. They’ve started so well here and now an enforced change to deal with.

Flag 31Mins

We spoke of how the defensive change was a blow and Okore can’t clear his lines as a Liverpool attack breaks down in the area.

Delph can’t stretch far enough to clear either and when Sterling picks it up, Coutinho makes an arcing run onto the shoulder and it’s a perfect pass into his path. He races into the area and slots it past Given.

Flag 32Mins

Here’s the Coutinho goal. Takes a deflection off Okore on its way. May well have been going wide.

Flag 37Mins

What a response that is from Villa! Delph does so well on the left side showing some great feet to get away from some tackles before feeding Grealish. Delph continued on the overlap and picked up the return, sent in the cross and the big Belgian did the rest.

Flag 41Mins

He just steered this home, Benteke. His 5th goal in 6 games against Liverpool while in Villa colours.


Lovely cameo from Grealish in the creation of the goal too. He’s revelled in the atmosphere so far and hasn’t looked overawed whatsoever.


There’ll be two minutes of injury time. Meanwhile, Emre Can – who has got a bit of a battering from Benteke for much of this half – may have picked up a slight injury. He’s walking pretty gingerly. Meanwhile, Moreno gets on a great overlap down the left but gets the cross all wrong.


A strange half. Villa were in control of that half until Baker was forced off and they needed to re-shuffle the defence. Unsurprisingly, Okore was involved in the concession of a goal that came from nowhere and without playing badly, Villa were behind.

They certainly deserved an equaliser and it was a superb leveller. Delph has bene impressive and he did well initially. Grealish, who has also proved eye-ctaching, played his role too and Benteke – who loves playing against Liverpool – was ruthless.

Rodgers has already switched formations and reverted to a flat back-four. But it seems certain there will be personnel changes too because Liverpool haven’t been great.


SUBSTITUTION! Balotelli (on) – Markovic (on)

Well, maybe a bit early to be thinking so radically but Brendan Rodgers has decided to really switch things up here. Could be madness or a master-stroke. We’ll see.


Balotelli has already been left on his arse after a coming together with Vlaar. Nothing given, despite him staring intently at Michael Oliver.


Another one for the Grealish highlight reel as he bombs forward and feeds N’Zogbia. The subsequent shot is wasteful though and it’s well wide.


Gerrard has dropped back to the bottom of midfield now after being further forward in the first half. Sterling has pushed wide but the changes haven’t had much of an effect so far. Meanwhile, Grealish pops up wide left and immaculately takes a ball down from the heavens before going on a little dribble.


Just as they did before conceding in the opening period, Villa are keeping the ball well here. Crisp touches, good movement, in control. Liverpool seem very ponderous.

Flag 53Mins

If that went in, it would’ve been one of the best Cup semi-final goals we’ve ever seen. Villa pour forward on the right and when the cross comes in, Benteke takes it first time, controls the strike on a half-volley. Takes a deflection and it’s easy for Mignolet.

Flag 55Mins

They deserve that! Benteke charges away down the left side, back-heels it to Grealish and Delph charges through in support. Grealish slips the ball into the channel but Delph is allowed turn inside two challenges and onto his right foot before he tucks it inside Mignolet’s near post.


Well, Liverpool are in real danger here. They seem to have no purpose, no ideas and Villa hardly seem to be a side battling against relegation. Instead, they’re confident and comfortable. Moments ago, Benteke made another run and was found, Mignolet left his goal-line to shadow him and forced him to recycle instead of shooting.



Just a moment ago, it looked like Benteke was in trouble but he’s still on the pitch. If he was to go off, it would be a massive blow. More pressure down the left side from Villa as Delph creates problems again.


By the way, it’s premature but Villa won’t qualify for Europe if they reach the final and Arsenal finish in the top-five.


Gerrard tries his luck from a free-kick after Balotelli is taken down in the edge of the area. On the left corner of the box, it looks a really tasty position for the veteran to whip it in but it’s pretty tame effort and Given makes an easy save.


So, what do you do if you’re Brendan Rodgers? Bring Rickie Lambert on and go direct? Is it too early? They need to change something though and fast. 20 minutes to go.

Flag 73Mins

CLOSE! This is what we can expect now. Villa break right through the middle and Liverpool don’t have the numbers back. Grealish slips it through for Benteke and only for a despairing challenge from Moreno, it would’ve been 3-1. Incredible stuff here.

Flag 74Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Sinclair (on) – N’Zogbia (off)

A former Swansea player under Brendan Rodgers, Sinclair can give Villa some more pace and trickery on the left side. Clever change from Sherwood as Liverpool will push forward for last 15 minutes.


Since coming on, Balotelli has been flagged offside about 45 times*. There seems to be no pattern to this at all.

*That’s an exaggeration. But certainly shades of Mikkel Beck in 1997.

Flag 79Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Johnson (on) – Allen (off)

Johnson slots into an advanced role on the right. Liverpool may have switched to a back-three again. We shall see.


Chance here for Liverpool. Coutinho was brought down by Delph and he’s gone in the book. It’s very central. A Gerrard special?


And it’s straight at Given. And that’s an anti-climax. 10 minutes to go.


Grealish has moved centrally with Sinclair hugging the touchline and he bombs forward again before slipping it through for Benteke. He sends it across for Cleverley – his shooting has clearly not improved since his Old Trafford days. It’s wild, skewing off the side of his boot.

Flag 84Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Cole (on) – Grealish (off)

What a performance from the 19 year-old. He’s been superb. You’ll read lots more about it on this site later on, believe me. Joe Cole comes in.


Gerrard whips in a corner and Lovren rises highest. He can’t keep it down though and that’s a decent chance.

Flag 85Mins

CLOSE! Another corner from Liverpool but this time Gerrard sends his header drifting towards the far corner but there’s Richardson to head it off the line. Big moment!


Balotelli has just put the ball in the net. But he’s offside. There’s a shock.

Flag 90Mins

SUBSTITUTION! Lambert (on) – Moreno (off)

Last throw of the dice here. But surely this should’ve happened sooner?


We’re into injury time and there will be four more minutes.

Flag 90Mins

Chance for Liverpool as Henderson lifts in the cross and Balotelli sends the header over the top. Tame enough finish. Seemed to mis-judge his leap.


Dejan Lovren lashes a shot at goal from about 30 yards and it’s wayward. Rush of blood to the head. Liverpool badly needed to keep the ball and recycle it.


What an incredible afternoon. Aston Villa – so poor for so much of the season – are 90 minutes away from being crowned FA Cup winners.

You have to doff your cap in the direction of Tim Sherwood. He has his critics but whatever he has been saying to this group of players has had an effect. Today, they were excellent from the off. There was spirit, determination and intelligence. Grealish, Delph and Benteke were immense and they really didn’t deserve to be a goal behind at all.

Still, despite the setback they responded so well and they conjured much of the same in the second half and probably should’ve had a third but for a last-gasp tackle from Moreno.

For Liverpool, there’s much to ponder on. There have been a number of issues this season that have bubbled to the surface and it’s up to FSG to decide how many of them reflect poorly on Brendan Rodgers. Many will call for his head but I get the feeling he’ll be retained until after the summer. Though with Jurgen Klopp available, it will only fuel the rumour mill.

But today isn’t about Liverpool. It’s about Villa and how the romance of the Cup continues.

About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan