ANOTHER SEMI-FINAL REACHED
Chelsea joined Tottenham, Arsenal, and our semi final opponents Everton, in the final four of this season’s Carling Cup with a convincing 2-0 win over a much changed Liverpool side. A heavily deflected Frank Lampard strike and a scorching finish from Andriy Shevchenko sent the Merseysiders out of the competition.
Petr Čech made his first start of the competition after his gaffe on the weekend, Carlo Cudicini unluckily left on the bench. Belletti and Bridge were the fullbacks, whilst a fit again Ricardo Carvalho joined Tal Ben-Haim in central defence. Frank Lampard was the captain and was in midfield with the in form Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien, whilst Shevchenko led the attack, Scott Sinclair- back from loan- and Salomon Kalou also started. Michael Ballack was on the bench, after 8 months out with an ankle injury.
Liverpool made many changes, Charles Itandje started in goal, as did Xabi Alonso in midfield with captain Steven Gerrard absent with a “tummy bug.” Voronin and Crouch were the preferred strike partnership, with star forward Fernando Torres not even on the bench.
The first chance of the game fell to Chelsea after five minutes. Shevchenko won a free kick, but Lampard was only able to smash it into the wall from a good position.
Itandje made a good save to deny Kalou after impressive lead up work from the lively Shevchenko, and it wasn’t to be the first time the Liverpool goalkeeper was called upon.
Lampard was next to attempt to beat the goalkeeper, after a lucky break sent him through on goal. He tried to cleverly dink the ball over the advancing Itandje, but the keeper stood up tall and used his body to block the shot. Three minutes later, Čech made an outstanding save to deny Lucas after a neat touch from Crouch beat Ben-Haim. The Chelsea goalkeeper did brilliantly to beat away the goal bound strike from the Liverpool midfielder.
With ten minutes remaining in the half, Essien smashed a fizzing volley towards Itandje’s goal that Mikel threw himself at in an attempt to divert the ball in. However, the Nigerian was offside and in any case failed to make contact as the ball flew inches past the post.
At half time, both goalkeepers had made good saves, and the 0-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of their respective performances.
The first chance of the second half fell to Essien, who hit a powerful strike towards goal from outside the box, only to be denied by a strong handed and athletic save from Itandje. He threw himself to his right to beat the shot away with panache.
Kalou shot wide after Lampard beat Hobbs, before Joe Cole was called off the bench to replace Sinclair. After 58 minutes, Chelsea found the breakthrough. Good work from Shevchenko set Lampard towards goal, his powerful strike looping up off the desperately diving Carragher and over Itandje to give Chelsea the lead. Chelsea were not to give away their spot in the semi final.
What followed was a moment of madness, as Peter Crouch was sent off for a nasty two footed challenge on Mikel, who was usual had been in the thick of things. Despite Benitez’s protestations, Crouch couldn’t argue with the decision.
Ballack made his long awaited comeback as he replaced Mikel, and looked neat and tidy for the rest of the game. Benayoun replaced Babel as Benitez searched for an equalizer. Such a goal was not forthcoming, and Andriy Shevchenko wrapped the game up with a vintage piece of finishing in the last minute.
Bridge somehow crossed from the left after some fancy footwork, despite the close attention of two Liverpool defenders. Ballack contested the header and the ball broke kindly towards the back post. Shevchenko’s first instinct was to strike towards goal, as he lined up the shot and smashed it with venom past the hapless Itandje. His lively performance and brilliant finished, coupled with his involved performance against Arsenal shows that Sheva might finally be turning the corner.
Sidwell replaced the Ukrainian as Chelsea successfully negotiated injury time to reach our 17th semi final in 14 seasons. Avram Grant can now turn his attentions to the English Premier League as we look to negotiate the tricky Christmas period by gaining as many points as possible.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Belletti, Ben-Haim, Carvalho, Bridge; Essien, Mikel (Ballack 67), Lampard; Kalou, Shevchenko (Sidwell 90), Sinclair (J Cole 56).
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Itandje; Aurelio, Carragher, Hobbs, Arbeloa; Sissoko, Alonso (El Zhar 59); Voronin, Lucas, Babel (Benayoun 72); Crouch.
Referee Martin Atkinson.