On a snowy Tuesday night at Anfield, Chelsea and Liverpool played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal. An early penalty from Eden Hazard was cancelled out by a brilliant bit of individual play from Raheem Sterling, and it sets this tie up for a drama-filled second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Much had been made in the build-up about Mourinho’s new attacking mentality after an impressive 5-0 win at the weekend over Swansea City. But away against Liverpool, the Chelsea manager reverted to type, introducing the more defensive-minded John Mikel Obi in place of Oscar, with his only other change being a return to goal for Thibault Courtois. Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers also resisted the urge to make too many changes, his only change being the return of Steven Gerrard from injury for Fabio Borini.
From the opening whistle, the pattern of play was clear. Chelsea came to Anfield looking to frustrate the Reds by sitting a bit deeper and looking to counterattack when needed, and it would be up to Liverpool to find a way to break down one of the league’s best defences. After a quarter of an hour, they very nearly did.
A poor first touch by Branislav Ivanovic gave the ball to Philippe Coutinho who found Steven Gerrard through the middle. The Liverpool captain launched a dipping shot from 35 yards that forced Thibault Courtois to tip over, and the Reds had made their attacking threat known.
However, their joy would not last long. Emre Can, a midfielder by trade making another start at center back, found his positioning exposed by Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard, bringing the latter down for a penalty. Fabregas beat him for pace around the outside, and when the Spaniard’s pass found Hazard, Can recovered but managed to clatter Hazard in a clumsy manner that was easily spotted by referee Martin Atkinson.
Hazard stepped up to take the penalty, and as only he can, stared down his countryman Simon Mignolet and coolly sent the keeper the wrong way, and Chelsea were up 1-0.
The penalty and the goal came very much against the opening run of play and seemed to knock a bit of the confidence and the ideas out of the Reds, who for all their possession simply could not find a way to breach the defence.
The second half began much the same way the first half began with Liverpool in possession, probing for an opening, but the Chelsea rearguard holding firm. It began to look like a moment of magic would be needed for Liverpool to avoid another harrowing defeat. That moment came in the 58th minute, not from the man who made his name on such moments, but from perhaps one of his potential successors.
Surrounded by Chelsea defenders, Sterling picked up a pass through from Jordan Henderson through the middle, and the England international darted and wriggled past four Chelsea defenders before sending the ball beyond Courtois and inside the far post.
Anfield was now rocking and the goal gave the hosts belief that they could get more, and Liverpool began to lay siege to the Chelsea goal, coming with wave after wave of attack. Liverpool looked the most likely to score a second, but the other Belgian international in goal, Courtois, showed everyone why he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Courtois may have gotten a bit lucky in the 66th minute when Coutinho’s pull back found Gerrard at the edge of the area and Gerrard’s shot slammed off of the post, but there was no luck involved a minute later when Coutinho’s low drive from 25 yards out was parried excellently by the Belgian with Filipe Luis on hand to clear. On 74 minutes, Courtois was forced into a double save after Henderson launched another dipping shot from distance and then saved the rebound from Raheem Sterling after the Belgian keeper could only parry the initial shot.
Gerrard’s replacement Adam Lallana also got himself in on the action, forcing Courtois to punch his shot wide of the post.
In the end, it’s hard to say that a draw wasn’t a fair result, and it does set up a fine second leg with the Blues holding the advantage via the away goal. However, given Liverpool’s performances against Leicester, Arsenal, and Manchester United, when all three teams set out to attack at some stage, you might wonder whether or not a more adventurous Chelsea attack could have found a way to grab a real stranglehold on the tie in the first leg.