5 talking points from Liverpool’s League Cup exit at Chelsea

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A spirited performance from Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool wasn’t enough to see the Reds through to the League Cup final as they suffered a 2-1 aggregate defeat. Ben Twelves picks five discussion points from the clash.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 27, 2015: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard clashes with Chelsea's Diego Costa during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A narrow 1-0 defeat condemned Liverpool to a semi-final exit at Stamford Bridge in a breath-taking game on Tuesday night, with Branislav Ivanovic’s header proving the difference between the two sides.

The Serbian defender powered home a free header from six yards after escaping the attention of Mario Balotelli and the Reds paid the brutal price for Alberto Moreno, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson all failing to take their chances on the night.

The conclusion from two engrossing ties doesn’t tell the full story with Liverpool enjoying the far better of the chances over the two legs but two courageous performances sadly were not enough for the Reds to progress.

Here are the five talking points from the eventful match.

 

Sloppy finishing costs Reds dearly

Liverpool’s lack of composure and continued poorness in front of goal once again proved their undoing at Stamford Bridge, as Rodgers acknowledged post-match.

It was the second successive fixture that Reds have fired a blank and Rodgers’ side failed to take the clear cut chances presented to them at the key moments on a night that they had to score.

Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho were the guilty men first half as both should have scored when one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, and though an element of credit must go the way of the Chelsea ‘keeper who made two brilliant saves, the Liverpool duo lacked ruthlessness in front of goal.

Henderson later steered a free header wide from inside the six yard box when it was easier to score with the Reds trailing in extra-time summing up Liverpool’s misery in front of goal, and Rodgers’ side ultimately paid heavily for failing to take full advantage of chances that came their way making Daniel Sturridge’s return even more desperately needed.

 

Resurgent Lucas Leiva shines again

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 27, 2015: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva in action against Chelsea during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Brazilian destroyer Lucas led the way for Rodgers’ men in the midfield battle and the 28-year-old proved once more just how important he is to the current Liverpool set-up.

The defensive midfielder – who is returning to the excellent form displayed before suffering from a horrible knee injury – set the tone for the night as he gained control in front of the back three and produced a perfectly timed goal-saving tackle to deny Willian firing a shot away from the edge of the box.

In the 90 minutes, Lucas was instrumental in a Liverpool courageous performance as he won the ball back well throughout – illustrated by making nine tackles and three interceptions – and kept things simple completing 85.3% of his 68 passes – the most by any Liverpool player – in a game played at a frantic pace, which saw him inevitably tire, and it was his tired legs that gave away a number of fouls including for the free-kick from which Ivanovic headed the winner.

 

Excellent display from Simon Mignolet

Since regaining his place due to injury to Brad Jones, Mignolet has looked a changed ‘keeper and the Belgian continued his big improvement with a superb performance on Tuesday night.

Producing a much more commanding display – taking control of situations in his box and the heat off defenders as a result – Mignolet deservedly took the plaudits for his all-round performance which saw the much maligned 26-year-old make two outstanding saves.

The first came from Diego Costa’s effort which deflected off Skrtel, and with Mignolet at full stretch having flung himself to the right, he kept the ball out with a superb instinctive block with his legs – all this before a sensationally timed tackle to deny Costa again as he attempted to round the Belgian after latching onto a loose ball in the box.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 27, 2015: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet makes a save against Chelsea's Diego Costa during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was another assured display – a few sliced clearances aside – from the improving Belgium international who has undoubtedly regained the number one shirt following his good form.

 

Settled Skrtel superb in the centre of defence

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 27, 2015: Liverpool's Martin Skrtel looks dejected after losing 1-0 to Chelsea during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Slovakian was certainly in the thick of the action in the second leg as he endured a night of battle against the physical Costa, but Skrtel stood up to the challenge expertly at the heart of the Reds backline.

Penalty incident aside – in which the 29-year-old was fortunate to go unpunished for his trip on the Brazilian-Spanish striker in the first half – the central defender competed magnificently well; attacking everything that came his way and defending solidly throughout.

Despite being on the receiving end of a horrible stamp from Spain striker in the running battle between the pair, Skrtel never shied away from the scrap and gave as good as he got against the 25-year-old – while maintaining the concentration to produce a whole-hearted display alongside the excellent Emre Can and combination of Sakho and Glen Johnson.

 

Questionable in-game management from Rodgers

As Liverpool looked to find the elusive goal they desperately needed, the Liverpool boss was forced to make changes to his side but he made the some uninspiring choices on the night.

Video: Brendan Rodgers post-Chelsea — Liverpool “not clinical enough”

He first change was enforced with Sakho injured and the Northern Irishman interestingly opted to introduce Johnson ahead of £20million summer signing Dejan Lovren – a damning indication of the Croatian’s impact since arriving which undoubtedly puts another dent in the former Southampton man’s confidence.

A lightning paced game bypassed Gerrard for the majority and with the captain having no influence and his legs becoming a increasing issue, Adam Lallana seemed the ideal replacement to bring energy, freshness and creativity to the attack – but Rodgers opted for Mario Balotelli who frustrated once again.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 27, 2015: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli and Chelsea's captain John Terry during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Energy was missing from a legless midfield where Gerrard dropped alongside Lucas when Henderson was moved wide to accommodate Balotelli in the front three – handing Chelsea increased control -and with chances well and truly sparse and creation needed, Rickie Lambert was disappointingly introduced for Moreno, forcing Balotelli wide and giving the Reds a bizarre 3-1-3-3 shape.

The changes and confusing alterations sadly killed off any remaining hope of grabbing a late goal as Liverpool lost their grip on the contest.

There’s little time for rest for Rodgers and his side as they turn their attentions immediately back to the Premier League and to a tough match against West Ham at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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