Playing at Wembley is often heralded as a ‘dream come true’ by the lucky few who arrive there, being labeled ‘Home of Football’ seen as a fitting destination for English clubs across the country.
A trip to the Brent neighborhood of northwest London often means that silverware is at your fingertips, giving players and fans a chance to fulfill their childhood dreams of achieving glory under the iconic arch.
For Brendan Rodgers, revisiting the soil where dreams are made could very well be the stuff of nightmares.
Brendan Rodgers’ last appearance at Wembley ended in disaster after his Liverpool side was dumped from the FA Cup semi-finals by underdogs Aston Villa.
On Sunday, Rodgers and his Leicester City squad will make the journey south to the capital for a historic FA Cup semi-final with Southampton, which will be attended by 4,000 fans – the first time this year, spectators have gotten access to a live sporting event . in England.
For Rodgers, however, the game has a slightly different meaning.
It has been nearly six years since the Northern Irishman last stood on the sidelines at Wembley after leading Liverpool to the semi-finals of the same competition as big favorites to make it to the final.
Rodgers had been the brains of Liverpool’s first-ever Premier League title the season before, and developed a reputation for slipping right before the finish line as he waited for his first piece of silverware as a manager.
It has been almost six years since Liverpool was dumped from the FA Cup by Villa
Liverpool had a very favorable FA Cup run that season, beating Wimbledon, Bolton, Crystal Palace and Blackburn on their way to a final four-match with Villa where they had another chance to progress.
But with the FA Cup seen as their last shot of silverware that season after being dumped from the Carabao Cup semi-finals just a few months earlier, Rodgers burst under pressure.
Liverpool got off to a flying start when Philippe Coutinho slipped into the Villa box before throwing the ball past Shay Given at the half-hour mark, drawing first blood for 85,000.
For a moment, Liverpool fans began to dream of what could be achieved after already taking the lead against Tim Sherwood’s Villa side, who were strong contenders to beat that season.
Philippe Coutinho gave Liverpool a brilliant start to the day by scoring the first half
It promised to be the ideal goodbye to captain and legend Steven Gerrard, who announced his departure at the end of the season.
But while Liverpool fans dreamed of a fairytale finish, they were soon razed to the ground when Christian Benteke equalized six minutes later.
Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph were thorns in Liverpool teams at Wembley, with the two beautifully tied together on the left before Delph’s withdrawal to the top of the Liverpool area saw Benteke pass the ball calmly past fellow countryman Simon Minglot in the Reds. just placed.
Villa’s equalizer sent Wembley’s other half into ecstasy, as Liverpool fans now feared the worst.
Six minutes later, however, Christian Benteke (left) would score Villa’s tying run
The Belgian striker, who would later sign with Liverpool, celebrates scoring the tying run
Villa then turned the result around when Fabian Delph (center) scored a second half winner
Their nightmares were soon realized when Benteke, Grealish and Delph combined again in the second half, but it was Delph who would finish the shot.
After putting Benteke away with a ball to the left, the Belgian striker brought Grealish into the frame with a rear wheel, before the nu-Villa skipper played a disguised ball into the penalty area for Delph.
With two defenders around him, Delph danced past both men’s challenge to score the winner, sending Villa into the final and knocking Liverpool out of the competition.
Rodgers admitted after the game that Liverpool lacked a mentality problem and admitted that his players were struggling with the pressures of the opportunity at Wembley.
Rodgers took the blame for the defeat, claiming that his Reds team was the second best of the day, despite the firepower of Coutinho, Gerrard and Raheem Sterling.
It was Steven Gerrard’s (middle) last FA Cup appearance for Liverpool boys’ club
It was a bitter end for Gerrard, who had announced earlier in the season that he would be leaving the club at the end of the 2014/15 season.
“We are clearly bitterly disappointed, more about the performance,” Rodgers said after the game. ‘You can always lose a match, but you would hope that you play well and give yourself a chance. I thought we were second best today, to be honest, I thought they were better than us.
‘We have reached two semifinals, we have to have the courage and courage to play better in the big games. We weren’t playing well enough today, technically we weren’t quite there, we looked like the opportunity and the energy got us a little bit. But that’s what can happen sometimes.
‘We fell short in a few games. That’s something we definitely need to improve. We are a team that has grown and changed a lot over the summer. But all these experiences will hopefully help in the future. ‘
That future of winning silverware with Liverpool would never come to Rodgers, who was fired six months later after a poor start to the 2015-16 season.
After reaching the end with Liverpool while still so far from glory, Rodgers rebuilt himself when he took the Celtic job after seven months out of work, and would get the relentless title-winning streak he so desperately needed on Anfield.
During his two-and-a-half years of running Celtic Park, Rodgers won back-to-back domestic Trebles for his last silverware – the Scottish League Cup – in the 2018/19 campaign.
After a disappointing end to his spell at Liverpool, Rodgers won titles with Celtic
While on track to win a treble or trebles at Celtic, Rodgers decided it was time to return to the Premier League mid-season, where he joined the Foxes in February 2019.
His offensive and fluid football brand at the King Power has been praised by many, with Rodgers turning the Foxes into English football and seeing his share as a manager rise again.
After leading Leicester to ninth place in the last few months of the 2018/19 season, Rodgers was on track to beat the top four while his Foxes squad held their own through the first half of the season, mostly in the second and third place. in the table until the pandemic brought football to a halt.
After the restart of football months later, Rodgers’ reputation for squatting under pressure re-emerged, with Leicester winning just two of their last nine league games, putting them to content with Europa League football after such a promising start .
Now, six years on from that semi-final, Rodgers is hoping to correct his mistakes and reach an FA Cup final with Leicester – but they need to beat Southampton at Wembley on Sunday.
History is in danger of repeating itself this season, with Leicester – currently in third place – struggling in the final stages of the campaign and being hounded by West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool for their top four place that looked so confident. month or so ago.
However, with Premier League football taking the backseat for Leicester this weekend, all eyes are on Rodgers and his return to Wembley.
Just like six years ago, it is Rodgers’ team entering the semi-finals as favorites, while Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Saints squad is currently struggling for form.
Rodgers will be desperate to finally put those ghosts from six years ago to bed by booking Leicester spot in May’s showpiece.
But as history continues to haunt Rodgers, he will dare to dream when he takes center stage again on Sunday.