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Stranger Than Fiction

At any given time, there are so many angles from which to view the complex drama of Liverpool Football Club and such a variety of insistent voices contributing to the chaotic narrative, that we can become understandably bewildered. Short version? We won and we're in the semi-final, which is nice.

I literally cannot stop looking at how the two lads frame Danny's head. It's simultaneously mesmeric, comical and disturbing.
I literally cannot stop looking at how the two lads frame Danny's head. It's simultaneously mesmeric, comical and disturbing.
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Following Liverpool Football Club in the kind of obsessive and all-encompassing way that so many of us do is akin to trying to stick with the plot of one of those movies in which the director attempts to balance several parallel narrative strands. The subsequent representation of those disparate yet connected plots across the multifarious media means that one can be left a little dazed and uncertain about what is actually going on or just plain frustrated by things that simply don't seem to make sense. We power up our laptops and open our trusted news source, hoping for the complex but satisfying delights of Amores Perros or Pulp Fiction, but all too often what we get is the unsatisfying mixed messages of Crash.

The crucial victory at Ewood Park last night was, on the face of it, a much-needed boost following a pair of morale shattering losses but it can only be really understood by attempting to examine all the interlocking tales that coil like tendrils around the club crest. Even something as elementary as compiling a piece of this column's usual guff for your entertainment this morning was a comparatively fraught process, with a plethora of angles and voices screeching for attention.

In keeping with the central metaphor of the opening paragraph, it is probably easiest to start with the most overtly Hollywood of the interweaving plots that form our tale. Jordan Henderson, returned to the central berth in which he has so often excelled, was involved in a little pre-game drama of his own, as his partner gave birth to their second child. The player made what tabloids like to call a DASH back from the joyous occasion to join his teammates, grab a little sustenance and, have a nice afternoon nap before leading the side out. So, not quite a DASH, then. Nevertheless, Brendan Rodgers, for whom this win was absolutely not about "saving" the season," was very glad to have the services of his captain on the night and could not praise his efforts and commitment enough.

"Jordan Henderson actually had to go back from the hotel," Rodgers revealed. "His partner had their second child during the night, so he had gone away, hadn't slept so much and travelled back again and put in a performance like he did tonight, a real captain's performance," Rodgers said at his post-match media conference. "Some players maybe would have missed the game, but he said to me: 'Boss, as soon as the baby's out I'll be coming back!' There was a car waiting! He spent time with his young partner, child and family, which is great, but he said, 'I'll be back' - and he was. He had his lunch, he had a good sleep this afternoon and then played like a real captain."

It was indeed a joy to see the ever-motile death-stare enthusiast back in his native milieu and even more pleasing was to see him provide an instinctive assist for the next character in our convoluted tale, Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool's diminutive Brazilian playmaker has been somewhat subdued in recent matches and the manager chose to maroon him in a wide right berth against Blackburn, which, in the eyes of this observer, stripped the team of the influence he can have from more central roles. However, it was from that right flank that Coutinho, in conjuction with his captain, produced the one moment of genius in the match -- a glorious strike, for which Henderson had nothing but effusive praise.

"Philippe's got a great footballing brain and the easy bit is just giving him [the ball] and he's finished it fantastically well," Henderson observed, downplaying his role in typically modest fashion. "It was a great strike. That little bit of brilliance from him wins us the game and gives everyone a big lift. So hopefully now we can really kick on in our last seven games in the Premier League and also in the semi-final. It was a really important game for us today. I think everybody has been disappointed the last couple of weeks with performances and results. But I think we've shown great character tonight."

Great character, indeed, and who has shown more of that particular quality in recent months than Simon Mignolet? The Redmen's Belgian custodian had a truly appalling start to the campaign but has rehabilitated his form to the point that his performances are now regularly outstanding. The mild-mannered goalkeeper made a series of vital saves and interventions last night, which were every bit as crucial as Coutinho's strike.When our purple shirted net minder saw his opposite number coming up for a last minute corner, he could have been forgiven for succumbing to a little bit of the panic that afflicted all of us watching.

Such angst about the presence of opposing goalkeepers at set plays is usually entirely baseless but when Simon Eastwood was allowed turn on the ball on the penalty spot and then half volley powerfully towards Mignolet's goal, a legion of cynical Reds were already bitterly laughing at the impending disaster. Liverpool's number 22 had other ideas, however, and parried the effort before gathering the dangerously bobbling ball a yard from his line. Henderson adds some colour to my drab presentation of Mignolet's contribution to the win:

"I couldn't believe it," he smiled. "It just fell to him and he's hit it quite well and it's got through a lot of bodies. So Simon's done well to get down and hold it. We knew to come here would be tough for us and that they would make it difficult. But from start to finish, I thought we were brilliant. I thought we controlled the game. Obviously towards the end, when we go 1-0 up, they're sort of chucking everything at us, but we defended fantastically. We go to Wembley against Villa and I'm sure it will be a tough game, because they're a good side. It gives everyone a lift."

"We've had suspensions and injuries over the last couple of weeks, but we've dealt with it really well," Henderson went on. "The people who have come in have done a great job. I thought when Kolo came on he was immense at the back, especially towards the end. Dejan was brilliant. So it was a great performance and it gives everyone a lift now. We can really kick on to the end of the season."

Once again the captain's industry has given your scribbler a neat segue, for it is only right that we acknowledge the solid display of the much maligned Dejan Lovren. One of the less edifying sub-plots in recent weeks has been the decimation of Liverpool's much-vaunted back three. Manchester United had already started to highlight a few issues before Martin Skrtel's dismissal and three match ban. Emre Can then missed last night's game following his red in the wretched display at The Emirates and last night, Mamadou Sakho limped off with a suspected hamstring injury. Last night, following his deeply uncomfortable season to date, Lovren was more than competent on the right side of the defence, offering hope that his Liverpool career may yet spark into life.

And still the voices come. The manager, who was understandably irked by recent criticism, made a point of revisiting the overly-hyped and apparently fractious team meeting that followed the Arsenal defeat, insisting that he is a coach that "speaks openly" and that "unless you review and analyse how you can be better, you can’t get better." He will have taken particular satisfaction in the progression to the semi-final.

Meanwhile, over on Instagram, Mario Balotelli, a man who has an increasingly fraught relationship with Rodgers, posted a picture of himself holding a thermometer which read 38.7 degrees. The Italian was keen to show the "real reason" he was out and signed off with a sequence of loaded hashtags - "#unluckyseason #YNWA #illbeback"

Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up. I'll be back for more Tales of the Unexpected next week. Enjoy your weekend.

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