Liverpool 0 Bolton 0: Three talking points
Three talking points as Brendan Rodgers' men are held to a draw at Anfield
Liverpool tread a fine line between ambition and pragmatism
Brendan Rodgers is not a man to hide his self-belief. No Luis Suárez? No problem. “This was the year for players to adapt and settle,” he said this week. “Come the summer, the period of integration will be complete and then we can compete like we did last year for the title.” In the meantime, then, it was to be full steam ahead in the cups, with a second leg tie against Chelsea this midweek the only remaining obstacle in the way of a Wembley appearance in the League Cup against Spurs or Sheffield United. League titles will now, of course, forever elude Steven Gerrard; but no matter – Liverpool’s talisman for so many years turns 35 on FA Cup Final day this year, and perhaps that desire to give him a suitable send-off may also have been a factor in what was a strong team selection (and a whole-hearted team performance) today. But while ambition is, of course, all very well, the risk is that pushing on all fronts – there is also a Europa League campaign on the horizon – will mean falling short of Champions League qualification this year. Inevitably, that will in turn hamper any player recruitment drive this summer – Rodgers is surely mistaken if he thinks that this squad can win the title – and raises the spectre of a full-season energy-sapping Europa League campaign next year. Sacrifices must sometimes be made for ambitions to be fulfilled – in trying to win every competition in front of him now, is Rodgers trying to have his cake and eat it?
Bolton take inspiration from a day of shocks to claim a well-earned replay
On a day of memorable FA Cup results, most notably at Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge, this game threatened to be something of a letdown. Liverpool had enjoyed a good run of results over the last few weeks, despite some patchy performances, while Bolton, those former Premier League stalwarts in the days of Sam Allardyce, had scored only nine goals in their previous nine games. And so, despite Wanderers’ resurgence in the Championship over the last couple of months under former Celtic manager Neil Lennon, and their ability to boast a strike force for the ages, with Emile Heskey partnering Eidur Gudjohnsen, all the signs seemed to be pointing to a disjointed 1-0 Reds victory. Sure enough, the first half showed Bolton looking assured in defence but blunt in attack, and Liverpool breaking quickly but letting things fall apart at the business end; and with Borini in particular inches away from a couple of goals in the late stages of the second period, everything so nearly went to plan. In the end, though, the Reds could have no real complaints. They monopolised possession but, in truth, created too few chances, with Matt Mills, Dorian Dervite and Darren Pratley in particular putting in monumental efforts for Bolton. Where Middlesbrough and Bradford led, the Whites could yet follow.
Young thrusters v old stagers – and neither claims the spoils
In a true nostalgia trip for children of the noughties, Gudjohnsen and Heskey found themselves paired together today in hopes of being able to revive their glory days up against what has been an inconsistent Liverpool defence. All too often in the first half, though, they were static, winning headers but unable to follow up the moves, or managing clever flicks past the opposition only to lose the subsequent race to the ball. At the other end, Sterling and Coutinho, their combined age of 42 only five years more than Heskey has managed on his own, looked effervescent, always finding pockets of space, jinking past defenders and teetering on the edge of clear-cut chances. The second half was much in the same vein – although while Heskey lasted only ten minutes before being replaced by 20-year-old Conor Wilkinson, Gudjohnsen made it to full time, and indeed should really have done better with a couple of excellent chances that fell to him inside the box. Sterling and Coutinho, meanwhile, continued to run the show, but came up against an unyielding back line marshalled expertly by Matt Mills. Both scripts were written – the value of experience or the changing of the guard. Neither side, though, would have the final say.