On a freezing cold night at Anfield, Liverpool drew 1-1 with Chelsea in the first-leg of their League Cup semi-final. Raheem Sterling’s terrific second-half solo effort levelled Eden Hazard’s penalty.
Goals: Sterling (59); Hazard pen (18)
Brendan Rodgers made just one alteration to the team that beat Aston Villa 2-0 on Saturday. Steven Gerrard returned in place of Fabio Borini, with Sterling starting up front. The 3-4-2-1 formation that has brought so much success of late was retained.
Liverpool bossed the first 15 minutes, without really creating much, but Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson combined nicely, and the former nearly latched onto a Philippe Coutinho pass. Steven Gerrard tested Thibaut Courtois with a terrific long-range effort.
The Reds were playing some superb stuff despite losing, but Chelsea‘s superb defensive unit were increasingly difficult to break down. At half-time it was Jose Mourinho’s side who led, but the hosts had impressed.
Diego Costa almost snuck in within seconds of the restart, but Mignolet came off his line well. Anfield was at its atmospheric best, and Liverpool continued to play well.
In the 59th minute the Reds were level, and it was fully deserved. Sterling raced through the Chelsea defence at blistering pace, before slotting brilliantly past Courtois. The home faithful were delirious.
Midway through the second-half Gerrard agonisingly hit the post with a left-footed effort, and seconds later Coutinho tested Courtois. Chelsea had had just one effort on goal after 70 minutes, and it was the penalty.
Henderson, Sterling and substitute Adam Lallana all forced the busy Courtois into saves in the last 20 minutes, as Rodgers’ men looked for a deserved win.
It wasn’t to be, however, but it had been a wonderful performance by the Reds; their best of the season so far. The second-leg at Stamford Bridge is finely poised.
MATCH REPORT (Press Association Sport)
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho still has not won a semi-final against Liverpool after Raheem Sterling’s flash of brilliance earned the Reds a deserved 1-1 draw in the opening leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final.
The League Cup can now be added to that after Eden Hazard’s 18th-minute penalty was cancelled out by the England international on the hour. It will not matter to the Portuguese manager, however, as he will be confident they can get the job done in next week’s second leg.
Yet Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers, formerly a member of Mourinho’s coaching staff, and his side will have gained great confidence from this performance.
They restricted the visitors, lining up with the Premier League‘s leading scorer Diego Costa, to just one shot on target all game.
The downside was Liverpool created 19 chances, six on target, but could only come away with a draw.
Pre-match, Rodgers said he felt they could go to Stamford Bridge and win and that will now be required, by whatever means necessary, but the advantage remains with Chelsea.
Considering the history between the clubs there was plenty of simmering tension in the first half but it never transferred into real chances. Just three shots on target were registered, with Chelsea‘s solitary effort the penalty. It came about through Emre Can‘s naivety.
His first mistake was to allow Cesc Fabregas to skip past him far too easily to reach the byline, his second was to compound his error by trying to recover the situation by connecting with Hazard. It may not have been the hardest of challenges but the Belgium international is not blessed with the physical – his critics would add mental – attributes to stay on his feet.
Referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot and Hazard sent Simon Mignolet the wrong way. It was familiar storyline, last seen back in April when Mourinho’s side derailed Liverpool’s title bid after capitalising on Steven Gerrard’s slip and then defending the life out of the game.
All the meaningful possession had been the hosts, with Philippe Coutinho showing he could add desire and influence to his talents with the ball. The fleet-footed Brazilian left the experienced John Terry trailing in his wake with one shuffle and had a shot deflected over.
In between he pulled the strings in the zone 20 yards outside Chelsea‘s penalty area, showing an improved relationship with central striker Sterling. Gerrard’s dipping drive from 30 yards, only just tipped over by Thibaut Courtois, was their best chance although the last action of the half had an incensed Rodgers encroaching on to the pitch claiming a penalty after the ball appeared to hit the hand of Costa laid on the floor.
With a lead in the bag, Chelsea did exactly what Mourinho asked them to in terms of recovering their shape whenever they lost possession and then hitting on the counter-attack.
The Portuguese had planned exactly for this eventuality – you could almost say inevitability – by bringing Jon Obi Mikel in alongside regular midfield colossus Nemanja Matic.
When Rodgers talks about a box in midfield he is referring to it in an attacking sense. Mourinho employed his own box but this one 20 or 30 yards deeper.
Very rarely was there more than 15 yards between Chelsea‘s midfield pair and central defenders Terry and Gary Cahill, shutting down the space Coutinho and Gerrard, in a more advanced role, wanted to work in. The invention had to come from deeper and when Jordan Henderson slid a pass down the centre Sterling went past Matic before the Serbia international could react, raced past Cahill into the area and beat Courtois.
It was the first goal Chelsea‘s mean defence had conceded in 341 minutes and all of a sudden the visitors were properly under the cosh. This seemed to be the game the 22-year-old Coutinho came of age and his run set up Gerrard to hit the post with a placed left-footed shot before the Brazil international forced Courtois into a low save and Martin Skrtel headed over.
Chelsea‘s goalkeeper was by far the busier and was at his best to save from Henderson and then react quickly to block Sterling’s rebound before palming away substitute Adam Lallana‘s volley. The Belgian’s performance may just prove to be the one that takes them to Wembley.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Markovic, Lucas, Henderson, Moreno, Gerrard (Lallana 70), Coutinho, Sterling.
Subs not used: Ward, Enrique, Lambert, Manquillo, Borini, Rossiter.
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Filipe Luis, Matic, Mikel, Willian (Azpilicueta 88), Fabregas, Hazard, Diego Costa.
Subs not used: Cech, Zouma, Ramires, Oscar, Remy, Drogba.
Referee: Martin Atkinson