When the final whistle blew at the Madejski stadium last Saturday, there will have been thousands of Liverpool fans across the country breathing a huge sigh of relief. Championship strugglers Reading pushed the European giants all the way in a thrilling encounter that personified the magic of the F.A Cup. The former Premier League side deservedly earned themselves a replay and after piling on the pressure in the second half, will have left the game wondering what could have been.
Despite a debatable drop in popularity over the last decade, the F.A Cup has always remained a prestigious trophy and one that many clubs set their sights on at the beginning of the season however, this season’s may just be the most significant competition for Liverpool in years.
It is no secret that Rafa Benitez’s side have experienced a fairly woeful start to the season. The reds have already lost 7 league games this season, 5 more than the whole of the last campaign and find themselves in 7th place in table and out of the Champions League. Benitez may be a lot of things, but he is not one to ignore the obvious and the Spaniard has himself stated that Liverpool now have two chances of trophy success this season; the Europa league and the F.A Cup. Ask your average football fan which they would rather win and the general consensus is likely to be the Europa League. The accomplishment of overcoming sides from the top divisions all over Europe surely outweighs that of lifting the F.A Cup. Doesn’t it?
Maybe in a lot of situations but for Liverpool this season, I don’t believe it does. Liverpool are the best side left in the Europa League and whilst there are some admirable competitors in the form of Valencia and Juventus, Liverpool will be many people’s favourites to lift the trophy come May. Failure in the competition will be considered a further collapse of Rafa’s empire yet victory would also carry with it a certain sourness as it will always be tainted with the underlying failure of the seasons Champions League campaign.
The F.A Cup is arguably the one saving grace in Liverpool’s season. The competition has come at the perfect time as it has given Benitez a chance to start afresh whilst also concentrating on steady progress in the League. A top four finish will now be considered a success in a season that began with expectations of a title challenge yet F.A Cup glory will always be considered an achievement, regardless of the circumstances. This is not to say that Liverpool should not be concentrating on the league as it still remains a key focus, but that they should also be placing a considerable amount of eggs in the F.A Cup basket.
Liverpool have not won the tournament since 2005 and have since experienced 3 disappointing campaigns in the competition. There is a lot of pressure on Rafa to achieve success because the F.A Cup has become of immense importance to Liverpool. The future of Benitez is unclear but it is obvious that if Liverpool are lifting the trophy at Wembley it May, it will do wonders for his reputation. The Reds must first focus on overcoming a resilient Reading side who will be determined to prove that the first game was no fluke and that they can still compete in the big time. If they can defeat the Royals, Liverpool face a favourable home tie against Burnley, a side which they have already defeated 4-0 this season and F.A Cup success will seem more than achievable.