Why this weekend is an opportunity for Liverpool to silence some critics

The biggest game of Liverpool's season arrives this weekend when they face Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-finals, and they will be hoping to silence critics who think they can't handle big occasions.

If there are any doubts about this Liverpool side under Brendan Rodgers, then a lot of the criticism heading their way will revolve around performances in big games.

It's the most recent criticism to be levelled at the side after their chances of finishing in the top four were severely damaged by back-to-back Premier League defeats to Manchester United, and then Arsenal two weeks later.

A lot of this goes back to the closing stages of last season when the Reds were actively pursuing the Premier League title, only to lose to Chelsea and throw away a commanding lead against Crystal Palace. Rather than the focus on an unexpected challenge for the crown, it was about whether they had the bottle – questions which arisen again after Liverpool spurned the opportunity to move into the Premier League's top four and have made their objective of qualifying for the Champions League all the more difficult.

There have, of course, been certain criticisms put to bed. Can Brendan Rodgers put together a decent run in the cup competitions? That has been answered emphatically. Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois denied them the opportunity of a League Cup final appearance, while Liverpool are now just 90 minutes away from the FA Cup final.

You can look at the Premier League table ahead of this weekend and see Aston Villa still in scrap for survival - though their situation has improved since the appointment of Tim Sherwood - and come to the conclusion Liverpool are firm favourites and should progress to the final at the end of May.

That in itself is a huge burden of expectation on the Reds on the big stage against a side that is improving, and giving very good teams a hard time.

One thing Liverpool have been able to do in this competition so far this season is win ugly, and have managed to get to the semi-final stage without winning a game at Anfield. No-one that follows Liverpool will care about any pretty football this weekend, or trying to play the right way, with the focus purely on finding a way to win. If they do that, some critics will be silenced - until the end of May, at least.

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