Maybe this is why Rodgers is often hesitant to rotate his team in cup competition. Because a Liverpool side with five changes from the side which drew Chelsea – even if they were expected changes – thoroughly disappointed. It was Manquillo's first start since January 5, Allen's and Johnson's first start since December 14, and Enrique's first start since December 9.
Liverpool weathered a spell of Bolton pressure early on, even if the only dangerous moment was a scramble in the box that was eventually cleared, then spent 80 frustrating minutes frustrated in the final third.
Liverpool were admittedly disjointed, but some of the main culprits were Liverpool's regulars, especially in attack. Neither Coutinho, Lallana, nor Sterling fired to anywhere near their full potential. And that's the main reason Liverpool failed to score, failed to win, and now Liverpool have to cope with a midweek replay in 11 days. Sometimes, it's just one of those days, although it'd be easier to blame that if Liverpool's attack hadn't misfired early and often this season.
Of course, Liverpool weren't helped by an opposition keeper having his best game of the season. When making his first start since August 30th. Adam Bogdan made four massive saves: on Henderson in the 12th, on Sterling in the 54th, on Coutinho in the 58th, and on Borini in the 71st. Bodgan made nine saves in total, tying the most any opposition keeper's made against Liverpool (De Gea also stopped nine).
Well, that doesn't look too bad. 23 of 24 shots coming in the center of the pitch. 14 inside the box, and 13 in the Danger Zone. Overall, nine shots on-target, five off-target, and 10 blocked.
Nine on-target isn't great, but nine of 24 is 37.5% accuracy, which is better than Liverpool's usual shot accuracy this season.
Oh. That makes it worse.
Just two of Liverpool's nine on-target shots coming inside the box. Eight of the 14 shots inside the box blocked. Liverpool's three closest shots to goal all off-target: Borini's header, Lallana's header, and Manquillo's 58th-minute effort, defined by Opta as a "big chance."
Today also highlighted the importance of wing-backs in this system, especially in attack, and especially when the opposition's happy to pack seven defenders in their own penalty box. Enrique was rightfully hauled off at halftime. Manquillo lasted just 20 minutes longer, taken off for Borini at the same time Lucas replaced Allen, with Sterling shifting to right wing-back. Neither Enrique nor Manquillo created a chance, while Manquillo added the aforementioned off-target big chance shot. Enrique's replacement, Markovic, created two chances, twice dribbled past a Bolton defender, and made the run which should have seen Bolton's best defender, Matt Mills, sent off in the 50th minute: a decision which would have changed the game. Borini had two outstanding chances to find the winner, one brilliantly saved, one depressingly off-target.
Mills was crucial to Bolton's game plan, the man of the match along with Adam Bogdan. Four tackles, five interceptions, five shots blocked, and eight clearances, leading the match in both interceptions and blocks. Which makes it worse that he was able to stay on the pitch after his uncalled foul in the 50th minute, before being subbed off for his own protection in the 73rd.
Bolton came to defend, and Bolton defended excellently. So be it. At least Liverpool didn't do anything stupid at the other end of the pitch – which is something I've been able to write a fair amount lately – keeping their fourth clean sheet in the eight matches since Boxing Day. Liverpool kept four clean sheets in the 26 matches before Boxing Day this season.
It could have been worse. Ask Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton, and Tottenham. Or Manchester United. Seven of the top 10 sides in the Premier League have played their fourth round FA Cup tie. None of those seven advanced: losses for Chelsea, City, Southampton, Tottenham, and Swansea, replays for United and Liverpool. Arsenal and West Ham play tomorrow, Stoke on Monday.
The magic of the cup, and all that nonsense. At least Liverpool's still in the competition. For now.
All stats from WhoScored