A Branislav Ivanovic goal in extra time sent Chelsea to Wembley in an enthralling 1-0 win over Liverpool in the League Cup semi final 2nd leg.
Jose Mourinho understandably wrung the changes to his side after our shock FA Cup exit to Bradford City, as only Kurt Zouma and Oscar survived the cull. That meant a return between the sticks for Thibaut Courtois, with captain John Terry replacing Gary Cahill as Zouma’s centre back partner and Filipe Luis taking Cesar Azpilicueta’s left back position.
The usual midfield pairing of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic regained their starting positions, meaning goalscorer Ramires made way, as did John Obi Mikel. Oscar kept his position behind the striker, with Eden Hazard and Willian flanking him rather than Loic Remy and Mo Salah. Diego Costa replaced Didier Drogba up front.
Liverpool made five changes in light of their own suprising cup result, being held 0-0 by Championship strugglers Bolton Wanderers. Out went Glen Johnson, Javi Manquillo, Joe Allen, Jose Enrique and Adam Lallana, and in came Martin Skrtel, Lazar Markovic, Lucas Leiva, Alberto Moreno and Steven Gerrard.
The game started as scrappily as many expected, with no real pattern of play created and any decent spells for either side regularly punctuated by fouls. Arguably Chelsea were lucky not to see Diego Costa sent off for a particularly poor challenge, as during the aftermath of a clash between the two replays showed Costa treading on the ankle of a downed Emre Can, in what was the main talking point of the opening quarter of an hour.
Another big talking point came soon after, and again it featured out striker. Martin Skrtel appeared to tread on the onrushing Costa’s foot, sending him sprawling – however the referee signalled for a goal kick and not the penalty the rest of the Bridge were expecting.
On the half hour mark Liverpool had two great chances in quick succession, both denied by great goalkeeping by Courtois. Gerrard played a sweeping pass which found Alberto Moreno who could only hit the Belgian stopper, and soon after Philippe Countinho did similar, with what was the best chance of the game at that point.
A free kick from Oscar failed to hit the target, and really was the remaining action in the first half which Chelsea were probably dreading the half time whistle, as they finally got themselves into some sort of rhythm.
Chelsea picked up where they left off at the start of the second half, and the rate of incidents only seemed to increase. A melee between Martin Skrtel and Diego Costa ended in both getting cheeky digs at each others legs without referee Michael Oliver noticing. The game had threatened to hit boiling point in the first half, and with that incident it was well and truly overflowing, helped no doubt by Oliver’s inability to stamp his authority in what was really a poor game for the man in the middle. Cesc Fabregas, after a tangle with his own centre back John Terry, went off injured with Ramires replacing him
On the hour mark Eden Hazard nearly opening the scoring with a fantastic effort, which saw him beat four Liverpool players before narrowly putting the ball wide in what would have been a Goal of the Season contender for certain had it gone in. With that effort the game had finally been released from its shackles and went on at a breakneck pace which saw Diego Costa denied by a fine Simon Mignolet save before Raheem Sterling countered immediately and wasted a good opportunity. Ramires had a good long distance effort go wide not long after.
Jordan Henderson could consider himself lucky that referee had a poor game, as a debatable handball shout could have easily led to a second yellow card or the England man as the game rumbled on at a frenetic pace.
Clear cut chances had dried up somewhat but game remained as enthralling as ever as neither side wanted to crash out to a late winner. Diego Costa, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli all had chances to seal it but to no avail as the game headed into extra time.
Despite all the chances during the past 90, it took just four minutes for Chelsea to break the deadlock in extra time. A free kick was whipped in by Willian, and it was Branislav Ivanovic who added another big game goal to his collection to put Chelsea in the driving seat by rising highest to nod home.
However moments later Liverpool should have pulled it level. Some Fine work from Raheem Sterling saw him breeze past Ivanovic played in a ball for Henderson who put a free header wide.
Again Diego Costa was involved in another spat, this time with Gerrard who squared up each other and both received bookings as the first period of extra time drew to a close.
A half chance for Mario Balotelli was the first chance of the second period, as a chipped effort fell wide as Liverpool were forced to take the game to Chelsea to have any chance of staying in the competition. Ramires dragged a poor effort from a good position wide to put the game beyond doubt.
In truth that was the last real chance for either side, as a breathless encounter concluded and it would our boys in Blue heading to Wembley for the League Cup final on March 1st. We will play either Tottenham or Sheffield United, Spurs holding a 1-0 advantaged heading into tomorrow’s second leg.
Our next game is a crucial Premier League clash, as we host 2nd-placed Manchester City on Saturday evening.