Dominant display, strong second-half, praise for Lucas, Coutinho & Sterling – 5 talking points from Chelsea draw

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Following Liverpool’s first leg League Cup draw on a bitterly cold but eventful night at Anfield, Ben Twelves picks five discussion points from the lively encounter.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 20, 2015: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the first goal against Chelsea during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool produced a hugely impressive performance against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, in a game in which the Reds didn’t receive the rewards they deserved after a dominant display.

Eden Hazard opened the scoring from the spot after being felled by Emre Can after 18 minutes, but Liverpool responded strongly to going behind as they came straight back at the visitors and the Reds grew as the game unfolded.

Football - Football League Cup - Semi-Final 1st Leg - Liverpool FC v Chelsea FC

Trailing at half-time, Rodgers watched his side control the entire second half attacking the atmospheric Kop end, and the Reds grabbed a deserved equaliser through Raheem Sterling’s brilliant individual effort which flew past a well-beaten Thibaut Courtois.

Liverpool pushed for a winner and came close on a number of occasions as Steven Gerrard hit the post and only the excellent Belgium international in the Chelsea goal kept the scores level with Lallana, Henderson and Sterling again all thwarted in their attempts to put the Reds ahead in the tie.

It was a real courageous performance from what was a young Liverpool side on the night which leaves it all to play for in the second leg, and here are the discussion topics from the clash.

 

Dominant & Decisive Defence

Liverpool’s improvements in the defensive aspects of their game were once again evident and even took a confidence-boosting step forward as the Reds tamed the Premier League’s most prolific scorers.

Penalty incident aside – in which the otherwise excellent Emre Can’s slow reaction allowed the visitors to nip in and punish – the tough Reds back-line stood strong against a usually lethal Chelsea attack consisting of great physicality and blistering pace, and defending on the front foot – a long term requirement from Rodgers – proved to be the way to stifle Mourinho’s rattled attack.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 8, 2014: Liverpool's Emre Can in action against Chelsea's Nemanja Matic during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Reds effectiveness defensively was epitomised by the fact that the table toppers failed to create a single chance of their own on the night and registered only two shots on Simon Mignolet’s goal – including Hazard’s spot-kick.

With Liverpool set to face a tough task in the second leg at Stamford Bridge next week, a similar approach in defending will be needed if the Reds are to grab the result for a trip to Wembley.

 

Lucas Leads the Reds to battle

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 10, 2015: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva clashes with Sunderland's Santiago Vergini during the Premier League match at the Stadium of Light. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Cast aside at the beginning of the season, the Brazilian has battled back superbly from the fringes of the Liverpool squad to make himself a key player in the heart of Rodgers’ new and improving side.

Positionally excellent, Lucas’ ability to spot and danger and break up play – which saw him make the most tackles and interceptions combined of any player on the night – proved vital in disrupting any attacking flow the visitors tried to establish, and his influence in front of a much more settled back three is plain for all to see – with Liverpool now having been defeated in just two of the 21 games in which Lucas has featured this season.

The 27-year-old – who completed an impressive 87.5% of his 88 passes; the most played of any Liverpool player – continues to prove critics wrong since his reintroduction to the starting XI and such is his importance now that the fact of the matter is the long standing midfielder is arguably the first name on the team-sheet.

 

Blistering Second Half a Welcome Positive

One of the missing components to Liverpool’s upturn in form has been lethargic second halves in matches against Leicester, Sunderland and at Villa Park last weekend, but the Reds were anything but in a superb second period.

Constantly on the front foot and taking the game to their shell-shocked opponents, Rodgers’ side were the only team that looked like they would emerge victorious after deservedly equalising as the Reds blunted the Chelsea front men and laid-siege to Thibaut Courtois’ net as the home side searched for a winner.

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The imposing Belgian stopper was the only reason the scores remained level after making excellent saves from Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, before Gerrard saw his left-foot strike hit the foot of the post, and Rodgers’ Reds must now build on their most complete and consistent 90 minutes of the season in upcoming fixtures of real importance.

 

Raheem Sterling Returns to Brilliant Best

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 20, 2015: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the first goal against Chelsea during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After coming back into the team at Aston Villa and producing an uncharacteristic performance by his usual high standards following a welcome period of rest, Sterling looked every bit refreshed as he produced an outstanding display on the night.

Back in his striking position in place of the dropped Fabio Borini, the fearless 20-year-old was a constant danger throughout and caused never ending problems to a usually solid and rugged Chelsea back line with exceptional unpredictability and movement – epitomised with his brilliant equaliser.

Drifting in between the lines, peeling off the Blues back four and into space created by the intelligent set-up of Coutinho and Lallana, Sterling turned expertly and accelerated instantly away from the cumbersome Gary Cahill before keeping a calm head in front of the boisterous Kop to level the tie.

It may have been a harsh decision to drop Borini following an assist and goal in his last two starts, but Rodgers was fully vindicated in his decision to hand Sterling the striking position on the night.

 

Coutinho the key to Reds Attack

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 13, 2014: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia in action against Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

If anyone has been brought to life by Rodgers’ shrewd system switch it’s the Brazilian magician who produced another dazzling performance on Tuesday night.

In form, Coutinho is unplayable and the 23-year-old looks to have added the consistency that has so far eluded him since his arrival at Anfield and while his shooting – the weakest part of his game – still needs improving, the bargain £8million man is a joy to watch and potentially devastating when in full flow.

His effortless ability to jink past those he often leaves trailing behind – something seen on six occasions on Tuesday, more than any other player – combined with the openings the Brazilian makes with his spontaneous and sometimes mesmerising creativity – epitomised by Coutinho playing four key passes – is proving a real asset to Rodgers’ set-up.

If Liverpool have any aspirations to progress to a second League Cup final in four years, they will need an on-form Coutinho to step up to the plate once more.

Liverpool now turn their attentions to the FA Cup when they host Championship side Bolton at Anfield in the fourth round, before heading south for the vital second leg at Stamford Bridge.

All stats via whoscored.com and squawka.com

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