After scoring the winner in the FA Cup fourth round replay at Bolton, the playmaker came to Liverpool’s rescue again in a replay— this time against Blackburn and this time to book a place in the FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa.
Coutinho’s goal, 20 minutes from time, pierced a stubborn and admirable resistance from Blackburn, of the Championship, and means Brendan Rodgers remains on course to collect his first silverware as manager of the Reds.
“It was a really important game for us today,”Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson said. “I think everybody has been disappointed over the last couple of weeks with performances and results.
“But I think we showed great character today. We knew when we came here they’d make it difficult for us but from start to finish we controlled the game, I thought we were brilliant.”
It was a much-welcome victory for Rodgers. Since Blackburn battled to a goalless draw at Anfield on March 8 to earn this replay, Liverpool have seen their hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four fade.
The Reds lost two of their three league games, with the most recent being a damaging 4-1 defeat by Arsenal on Saturday.
By Rodgers’ own admission, that slide had increased the importance of going on to make their run in the FA Cup result in silverware.
Rodgers made three changes to his team, with Dejan Lovren coming in for his first appearance since the match against Rovers at Anfield.
England internationals Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson also came in, with Kolo Toure Lazar Markovic and the suspended Emre Can making way.
It meant a switch to a back four for Liverpool, with Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson in a narrow midfield. With that trio involved it was no surprise that the visitors dominated possession and two of them combined for Liverpool’s first chance.
Lucas’s chipped pass aimed at Sturridge was headed half-clear by Alex Baptiste but only as far as Allen, who drove his first-time effort into the turf and wide.
There were boos from the Blackburn fans for Raheem Sterling, who apparently wants to be paid more than his employers are offering. The England winger came close to silencing the Rovers supporters when he flashed a drive narrowly over the bar from the corner of the 18-yard box.
Blackburn’s faint hopes of sneaking into the top six of the Championship have diminished and Gary Bowyer’s squad was stretched to the full, with 12 first-team squad members unavailable through injury.
Top-scorer Jordan Rhodes led the attack, with Rudy Gestede, who has 16 goals to his name this season, only fit enough to come on as substitute for the last 26 minutes after suffering a hamstring strain in the 3-0 win over Leeds on Saturday.
The onus was on Blackburn’s midfielders to drive forward in support Rhodes and Craig Conway was almost rewarded for doing so when an error in judgment by Mamadou Sakho allowed the winger to meet a hopeful punt forward. The opportunity came and went in a split second, as Sakho recovered to slide in and atone for his mistake.
Sakho did not last much longer before limping off with a hamstring injury and being replaced by Toure just after Rhodes had headed over from Ben Marshall’s cross at the end of a rare Blackburn attack.
Blackburn did a good job of keeping Coutinho at arm’s length in the first half but the Brazilian forced Simon Eastwood into a smart stop before the break.
Rovers failed to clear their lines from Henderson’s corner and Brazilian Coutinho fired a low volley through a crowd, only to be denied by the Blackburn keeper.
Almost as if sick of defending, Blackburn started the second half determined to attack and forced two fine saves from Simon Mignolet in the first two minutes after the break.
The Belgian keeper dived full stretch to tip over Tom Cairney’s drive after good work from Markus Olsson down the left and made an even better stop from the resulting corner.
Marshall met Conway’s delivery with a header but Mignolet was equal to it, scrambling to his left to push the ball on to the post.
The introduction of Gestede lifted the home fans but Liverpool resisted a brief spell of Blackburn pressure before taking the lead with a stylish goal from Coutinho.
The Brazilian’s corner was poor but the ball came his way again and he did not waste the second chance. A pass to Henderson, was followed by a burst into space and an firm low drive across Eastwood and in off the far post.
On the touchline, Gary Bowyer motioned to his side and their supporters to lift themselves again and there was time for one last close call.
Goalkeeper Eastwood — up in attack for Adam Henley’s throw-in — shot on the turn, only to be denied by counterpart Mignolet as the visitors held on to secure their day at Wembley on April 19.
Eastwood 7; Henley 6, Baptiste 7 (Spurr, 80), Kilgallon 7, Olsson 7; Conway 7 (Gestede, 64, 6), Williamson 7, Evans 6, Cairney 6, Marshall 6; Rhodes 6.
Steele, Songo’o, Nyambe, Lenihan, Mahoney.
Mignolet 7; Johnson 6, Lovren 6, Sakho 6 (Toure, 27, 7), Moreno 7; Lucas 6, Allen 6, Henderson 8; Sterling 7, Sturridge 6 (Lambert, 85), Coutinho 7.
Kevin Friend 8.