Liverpool's victory over Blackburn Rovers was achieved without a number of key players, as expected against a side in a lower division, and was what the club and Brendan Rodgers desperately needed after disappointing defeats to top four rivals in the past two league matches. A single goal victory isn't the most convincing way to move past lower-league opponents, but at least Liverpool fans were spared the depressing sight of underdogs successfully breaching a Liverpool defence to score in front of an eager crowd at Ewood Park.
Tim Sherwood and Aston Villa lie in wait at Wembley, but before that, Liverpool can still regain some lost momentum by getting back to the business of winning league matches starting with Newcastle at Anfield on Monday. The semi-final will be another game where defeat will bring ferocious criticism of the manager, but Brendan Rodgers was aware of the mood and pressure surrounding the club.
We were heavily criticised and disappointed in both games we played because of the standards we had set. So we knew this was vital for us and the supporters. This was for them to give them the hope that we're still progressing, but you have to win matches and trophies to do that. As a team, we wanted it, but it wasn't about saving our season. We want to compete at the top end of the league and win trophies. We just needed to focus on our performance because the two performances against United and Arsenal were not to the standards we had set.
Unfairly characterised as a managerial chancer and fraud by some fans who seem to be waiting for any misstep to seize upon, Liverpool's 42-year-old manager has gone from being talented to inept quite a few times over the course of his tenure. The recent and quickly forgotten undefeated run in the Premier League wasn't derailed by narrow defeats or near-misses but rudely dismissed by sides expected to at least struggle in vanquishing any challenge Liverpool posed. Two nil leads at Anfield and three nil leads at the Emirates effectively finished with large portions of time remaining on the clock.
Liverpool has to do better and must do better, and Rodgers' words weren't just a response to the win over Blackburn in the replay. Rodgers is aware of the rejected contracts by key young stars, the unlikely prospect of top European football next season, the lack of silverware of any kind since he's taken over, concerns over transfer policy, and the questions on whether this is a project that can compete with title chasers and Champions League regulars.
So, "the standards we had set" may be restored somewhat with a return to a back four in the remaining seven weeks of the domestic campaign. Liverpool are off the pace in the race for the top four but will have a chance of cutting the gap before the trip to Wembley, something that may be more valuable than some realise. Early exits from two European competitions hasn't been fun but have been softened by reaching two domestic cup semi-finals, although failure to reach a final will reflect badly on Rodgers' managerial skills in big games.
Liverpool visit Wembley for the first time under Brendan Rodgers and that was the only acceptable outcome after the final whistle at Ewood Park. Mission accomplished thanks to the magical Philippe Coutinho, a professional if uninspired team performance, and Rodgers' acceptance that change was needed.