Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers finds solutions to some of Liverpool's big problems

By Steven Beacom

Brendan Rodgers applauded the Liverpool fans. In turn they rose to their feet at the final whistle to return the compliment in appreciation of his team. This was more like it. This was what the Kop wanted to see.

For long periods at Anfield in the first leg of a gripping Capital One Cup semi-final, which ended 1-1, Liverpool played Chelsea off the park.

They pressed with pace and power, with the fired-up Lucas leading the charge in midfield, passed with purpose and in quicksilver Raheem Sterling found penetration against the best side in England, who had just come off the back of a stunning 5-0 success at Swansea.

This was a confident Chelsea side feeling in unstoppable mood. The juggernaut wasn't just halted last night, it was pushed back time and time again.

Entering the contest, Liverpool's form of late had improved following some dire displays earlier in the campaign when the manager came under serious scrutiny, but last night they moved to a different level, producing their best performance in what is now a nine-match unbeaten run.

All that was missing for the Reds on an evening when they had 20 attempts compared with Chelsea's two, was a deserved victory.

Having been on top so much, you just wonder if not taking a lead to Stamford Bridge for next week's second leg will come back and haunt the Merseysiders and ultimately cost them a place at the Wembley final.

Time will tell.

Chelsea players can thank Lady Luck and their brilliant goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for keeping the tie in the balance.

In the first half everything seemed to be going according to plan for Jose Mourinho. His team had taken the lead through Eden Hazard's cool penalty, rightly awarded after he was felled by a clumsy challenge from Emre Can, and while Liverpool had plenty of possession, only Steven Gerrard's swerving 35-yarder had threatened them, with Courtois pulling off the first of what would turn out to be several outstanding saves.

In the second period, Liverpool were rampant, refusing to lie down to a Chelsea team, who this season have forced so many others to raise the white flag.

Even so for all their togetherness and impressive team ethic it took individual magic from Sterling to smash the blue wall down.

Showing devastating speed and skill, he raced into the area, leaving the visiting players in his wake before calmly slotting into the net with his left foot.

Rodgers was questioned over his decision to give Sterling a mid-season holiday recently. If he keeps scoring like that, there'll be Scousers paying his fare to Jamaica any time he likes!

Earlier on this season, key calls from Rodgers were not coming off. Now they are - giving Sterling a break an example. After going against his natural instincts in order to fit strikers like the woeful Mario Balotelli and willing Rickie Lambert into the side, the Ulsterman went back to what he knew best, finding a system with the personnel available to play his way again... with all that pressing, pace and penetration.

It has worked and almost brought him his first victory over Mourinho. Gerrard, in his first Anfield match since announcing his departure in May, hit the post before Phillipe Coutinho and substitute Adam Lallana were denied by the excellent Courtois. It all sets up a potential classic clash at the Bridge. Chelsea are favourites, but Liverpool are dangerous again.

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