Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admitted his team lack a big-game mentality after their reputation as the nearly men of English football was reinforced in a 2-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday.
The seven-times competition winners were outplayed in almost all departments by an Aston Villa side struggling for points in the Premier League.
It was a second semi-final defeat of the season for Liverpool, who were knocked out of the League Cup by Chelsea earlier in the campaign.
On the back of last year’s runners-up finish in the Premier League, having stuttered in the final throes, Rodgers knows his team need to discover a winning habit when the pressure is on.
“We need now to have the courage and bravery to play better in the big games, because we didn’t play well enough today,” he told reporters after goals from Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph cancelled out Philippe Coutinho’s opener for Liverpool.
“We weren’t quite on it. We looked as if maybe the occasion and the energy got to us a bit today, but that’s what can happen with young players…
“We have come up short in a few games and it is something we certainly need to improve. We are a team that is growing, but all these experiences will hopefully help.”
At a club where winning trophies has been the most basic requirement for managers over the years, Rodgers will probably not need reminding of his own shortcomings in that department.
Sunday’s defeat means he will become the first Liverpool manager since Phil Taylor in the 1950s not to win any silverware in their first three seasons in charge.
Should Liverpool fail to finish in the Premier League’s top four and qualify for the Champions League, the lack of a trophy could count against Rodgers when the club’s owners make their end-of-season assessments.
Sunday’s defeat also ensured that Steven Gerrard’s glittering Liverpool career would finish without a showpiece cup final send-off before he packs his bags for LA Galaxy in the close season.
Restored to the starting lineup after serving a three-game suspension, the midfielder was unable to produce any trademark heroics to dig his side out of the mire on the Wembley turf where he has so often shone in the past.
“I think he was doing everything he possibly could today to help the team,” Rodgers said. “I thought he was excellent, collectively we did not perform well enough.”