Liverpool fail to capitalise on a dominant performance as their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg with Chelsea ends 1-1 at Anfield…
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers opted to make just the one change from the weekend victory over Aston Villa with Kop skipper Steven Gerrard replacing Fabio Borini after shrugging off a hamstring injury.
The Reds started the encounter brightly – playing at a high-tempo and harassing the men in blue at every turn – but without creating any real openings of note.
With two defensive midfielders in the shape of Namanja Matic and John Obi Mikel, Chelsea were happy to sit deep and soak up the pressure.
The visitors were indebted to a couple of well-timed tackles and interceptions from Gary Cahill as Liverpool finally began to threaten Thibaut Courtois’ goal around the 15 minute mark.
Then, just moments after Courtois had spectacularly tipped-over a Gerrard drive from distance, the Londoners unexpectedly took the lead via the penalty spot.
Great work down the right from Cesc Fabregas was richly rewarded when Emre Can felled Eden Hazard, the Belgium international dusting himself down and sending compatriot Simon Mignolet the wrong way.
Although there were protests from Can, the challenge was clumsy at the very least and referee Martin Atkinson was perfectly positioned to adjudicate.
Liverpool responded well to the setback and produced some impressive periods of intricate passing involving the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic and Gerrard.
Martin Skrtel should have done better with a headed opportunity shortly before the half hour mark, while an impressive surge forward from Can almost created a chance for Sterling.
As the half went on though the Reds became increasingly susceptible to the counter-attack; Alberto Moreno needing to be alive to the impending danger on one particularly dicey occasion.
After a brief period of sustained Chelsea pressure, Rodgers’ men almost grabbed an equaliser when a Coutinho effort dipped narrowly over the bar after taking a deflection.
There was also an impassioned, but ultimately futile, penalty appeal on the stroke of the half-time whistle when the ball appeared to strike the hand of Diego Costa as he lay prone on the deck.
The game continued in much the same vain as it had for the majority of the first half after the restart with Liverpool dictating the play.
The goal their effort and drive had so richly deserved finally arrived in the 59th minute when Sterling turned and drove at the heart of the Chelsea defence before shooting across Courtois and into the net.
The visiting defence were slightly guilty of backing-off the 20-year-old but that shouldn’t distract from an exceptional strike.
In the immediate aftermath of the equaliser, a better timed run from Costa or a better touch from Hazard could easily have restored the lead for Mourinho’s men.
The encounter had become an exciting, end-to-end affair and Gerrard looked to have put the hosts in front only to be denied by the post.
Moments later the excellent Coutinho forced a good stop out of Courtois, while in the 73rd minute Skrtel flicked a presentable Jordan Henderson free-kick delivery over.
Courtois was by far the busiest player on the pitch; making a smart double stop to deny Henderson and Sterling before producing an even more eye-catching moment to deny Adam Lallana, who had earlier replaced Gerrard.
At the other end, in an increasingly rare foray forward, Costa went down after tangling legs with Mamdou Sakho but it was as much a case of him running into Sakho as the other way round.
The frantic pace, perhaps understandably given the exertions of the players, finally began to ease in the final 10 minutes, although Sterling did threaten to win it on a couple of occasions.
Ultimately it would remain honours even and advantage Chelsea going into next week’s second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool will be extremely encouraged by their performance but may well live to regret not making more of their numerous openings. Tonight was very reminiscent of so many showings last season, in terms of the tempo, pressing and desire in particular, but, unfortunately, the absence of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge yet again regularly stuck out like a sore thumb whenever the ball was in or around the opponent’s box. Chelsea were pretty negative at times and will no doubt be an entirely different proposition on their own patch but Rodgers and his men should head to London with spirits raised and happy in the knowledge that a place at Wembley certainly isn’t beyond them. If we can continue to play like this then the season is likely to have a successful climax, whether that’s in the League Cup or not remains to be seen.
Lucas Leiva – It’s no coincidence that Liverpool’s impressive recent run of form has coincided with the Brazilian’s reemergence. Against Chelsea he was excellent at breaking up play, as per usual, but also at setting off attacks and dictating the tempo. With him in the side, the likes of Coutinho can spend more time in dangerous areas.
Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Markovic, Moreno, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard (Lallana 70′), Coutinho, Sterling.
Unused subs: Ward, Manquillo, Enrique, Rossiter, Borini, Lambert.
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