Liverpool knocked and knocked but Blackburn’s front door never caved in. Credit today goes to Rovers’ stubborn defence, setting up a lucrative replay at Ewood Park.
The game had hardly begun when a lengthy delay due to a Martin Skrtel head injury held up proceedings. The Liverpool centre-back was later confirmed as being OK, however it was a stop-start opening which was to become the narrative of much of today’s game.
Liverpool and Blackburn cancelled each other out in the first half and the talent which Liverpool possess on paper didn’t convey their strength in a way that the Championship’s Blackburn looked out of their depth.
The organisation of Blackburn’s defence and the midfield in front of them, who brilliantly cut out the Reds’ creative players is a credit to Gary Bowyer and his tactics.
Pointing to their Premier League form one would have said Liverpool were going to destroy any attempt from Rovers to snatch a result at Anfield.
The first half saw Blackburn frighten Liverpool’s defence on several occasions with Rudy Gestede causing all sorts of problems with his movement as well as a fantastic chance for right sided Craig Conway to put the Riversiders ahead.
It’s difficult to pick out stars when it comes to 0-0 draws but it would be remiss of anyone to deny Blackburn’s brightest ones today, and that was their defence.
Adam Henley, Matthew Kilgallon, Alex Baptiste and Marcus Olsson bravely committed to the cause while using great positional sense rather than last minute tackles and heroism to counteract Liverpool’s advances.
The second half made for a tough 45 minutes of wave after wave of Liverpool barrages. The shape of Blackburn’s side was so great, they might as well have planted a stop sign at the edge of the box, such was their willingness to win the ball before it made it’s way into the penalty area.
Rovers’ starting point in defending was in midfield where they broke down the effectiveness of Liverpool’s flair players, notably Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.
Behind them Jordan Henderson was given little time and space to vary the Reds’ play and put Daniel Sturridge in over the top. Mario Balotelli entering the fray had little or no effect, with some tame shots failing to trouble Simon Eastwood in goal.
This scoreline would in the past point to another poor Liverpool performance but the Premier League’s most in-form team were quite simply shut out today. Liverpool played well and tried every avenue available to them but Blackburn were just too stubborn to be penetrated. It’s as simple (or for Liverpool, as complicated) as that.
A replay is something Liverpool could have done without as it now sets the Reds up with a March 16th tie ahead of a crucial game in the race for Europe on March 22nd against their biggest rivals Manchester United.
Blackburn on the other hand will be all too happy to take the Reds back to Ewood Park and the payday that comes with it.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
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