Chelsea vs Liverpool: Branislav Ivanovic seals classic encounter with extra-time header to send Blues to Wembley
Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0
Jose Mourinho did not even see the winning goal that decided this towering inferno of a League Cup semi-final, he was too busy arguing with the fourth official Phil Dowd, and once he been patted on the back by his staff, he went back to his argument.
It just about summed up the tension on a night when the modern rivalry between these two clubs was born anew with a great snarling tear-up of open attacking football, and random acts of violence provided by Diego Costa. Not so much random as deftly calculated: two stamps on Emre Can and Martin Skrtel, executed with the precision of the assassin and out of the scope of referee Michael Oliver’s vision.
He should have been sent off for both of them, he should also have had a penalty between the two incidents when Skrtel blatantly tripped him in the box. A hardman in a pair of club-issue woolly gloves, Costa has the unerring ability to get under the skin of even the most experienced players. Steven Gerrard thrust a forehead in his direction as it got really tense in extra-time.
Yet for all the bad feeling and animosity it was a wonderful cup tie that went to extra-time, the away goals rule only applicable at 120 minutes. It was from a foul on Eden Hazard, and there were a few of them, that Chelsea won a free-kick that Willian struck for Branislav Ivanovic to head home. It is Chelsea who will go to Wembley on 1 March for what they hope will be the first trophy of Mourinho II.
A breathless first half, and one in which Liverpool made just about all the running. Darting, incisive and pressing Chelsea to within an inch of their lives in midfield, they looked a world away from the team that stumbled through the first few months of the season.
If Liverpool had a fit striker to finish the chances that were created then Chelsea might have been buried by half time, yet as it was they were alive at the break. There had been some moment of living dangerously, not least when Raheem Sterling exposed Kurt Zouma with his explosive running from deep.
That first time, Zouma recovered to make the covering tackle. Then, on half an hour, the excellent Philippe Coutinho deceived the young Frenchman with a twist of the hips to the extent that the Chelsea man was heading in the direction of Fulham by the time he realised the Brazilian had plotted another course.
Zouma was in for Gary Cahill, dropped by Mourinho after an indifferent few weeks and having struggled with the pace of Sterling in the first leg draw at Anfield. Zouma is quick but no-one on the pitch was as quick as Sterling and it took a change of direction by the Liverpool man in the 17th minute to allow Zouma the time to recover and make a good covering tackle.
The two big moments of the first half both revolved around Costa who should have had a penalty on 22 minutes when he was clearly tripped by Skrtel down by the byline. The frothing sense of injustice on the Chelsea bench was untempered by the fact that their assassin-faced centre-forward should have been sent off 11 minutes earlier.
The stamp, or rather the vicious, sly tread, on the right leg of Emre Can was, sadly, straight out the Costa playbook. A glance to locate his grounded opponent and then a boot thrust down on Can as pushed off to chase the ball. It was a mean, dangerous thing to do and he should have been sent off. One wonders whether that realisation flashed through the mind of referee Oliver when he later denied Costa the penalty.
Around the half hour, Courtois came to the rescue of his defence twice, once when Alberto Moreno was played in by a superb curling ball to the left from Steven Gerrard, then again when Coutinho broke away from Zouma. In midfield, Liverpool swarmed all over their opponents, especially Gerrard on Nemanja Matic.
Chelsea had fewer good moments in attack although they are always just a heartbeat away from a goal. It was notable how little Cesc Fabregas was on the ball before the break, and also how much Matic found himself forced to run with it – not the Serb’s greatest strength.
Fabregas lasted less than five minutes of the new half before a collision with John Terry seemed to resolve in his mind his own fitness issues. He was replaced by Ramires. As per the first half, the pace of the game was unrelenting, so too the theatrical sense of injustice on the Chelsea bench for whom conspiracy existed everywhere.
There was even a moment after the hour when Mourinho found himself pushing Rodgers in an attempt to get to Colin Pascoe, the Liverpool assistant, who it seemed, had the temerity to do as much appealing as the Chelsea bench. All thoroughly entertaining stuff and then, just to calm things down, Rodgers sent on Mario Balotelli.
It was already pretty damn heated by then. Costa had carried out his second surreptitious stamping, this time on Skrtel as they chased a ball after the whistle had already been blown for a foul by Lucas Leiva on Oscar. It was that sort of game. The captains were called aside by Oliver to cool it down. How the referee kept missing Costa’s studdings only he will know
Chelsea attacked more after the break. Around the hour Hazard jinked from right to left and shot wide. Costa had an effort saved and then was deftly tacked by Simon Mignolet when a sloppy pass from Jordan Henderson had played the striker in.
Henderson, always in the thick of it, had been booked in the first half and there was outrage among Mourinho and his staff when he did not get a second yellow for a handball. A booking for a handball is at the referee’s discretion, and to say that this one divided opinion was putting it mildly indeed.
And so to extra-time when Lucas’ foul on Hazard gave Chelsea the free-kick that Willian crossed for Ivanovic to head in. Rodgers sent on Rickie Lambert for the second period of extra-time but in truth, Liverpool ran out of ideas. The stage was set for Balotelli but he looked miles off the pace. A decent centre-forward is the minimum requirement to beat Chelsea, who were too strong in the end.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Filipe Luis (Azpilicuet,a 78); Matic, Fabregas (Ramires, 49); Willian (Drogba, 118), Oscar, Hazard; Costa.
Liverpool (3-4-3): Mignolet; Can, Skrtel, Sakho (Johnson 57); Markovic (Balotelli 70), Henderson, Lucas, Moreno (Lambert 105); Gerrard, Sterling, Coutinho.
Chelsea Terry, Ivanovic, Costa, Oscar
Liverpool Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard, Can, Skrtel
Referee: M Oliver
Man of the match: Coutinho
Belfast Telegraph Digital