Belfast Telegraph

Raheem Sterling goal means second leg may not be a bridge too far for Liverpool

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

By Sam Wallace

It was a goal scored in the blink of an eye: a turn, a run and a shot that told you all you needed to know about the big-match temperament of Raheem Sterling.

This Capital One Cup semi-final tie goes to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday nicely poised, and with a marginal advantage to Chelsea, but it would have been so much less promising for Brendan Rodgers' side without a brilliant second-half equaliser from Sterling.

At 20 years old he has met every challenge presented so far and now finds himself approaching the big games when finals and trophies are at stake.

The young Englishman was the outstanding player on a night when Liverpool had to fight their way back into a match that they could quite easily have allowed to slip away after Eden Hazard's 18th-minute penalty.

There were fine performances from Jordan Henderson and Martin Skrtel, and the occasional burst from Philippe Coutinho, but it was Sterling to whom the eye was drawn again and again.

In the land of the giants - John Terry, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic and Thibaut Courtois - it was Sterling who made the best chances for Liverpool, and they had 20 attempts on goal to Chelsea's two. The greatest compliment you could give Sterling was that with Hazard threatening to decide the game, it was the Englishman who wrenched it back for his team.

A break in Jamaica has done him no harm and Liverpool, now unbeaten in nine games, go to Stamford Bridge with the chance of an upset.

Away goals will count only after extra-time is played.

As for Chelsea, they remain formidable opponents, capable of breaking the heart of their opposition in an instant.

Impressive in the first half, they slipped a little after the break and one wonders if Jose Mourinho's untouchables are starting to find the pace of the season a little unrelenting.

Their outstanding player was Courtois while Cahill and Matic found their shortcomings exposed in a way that was rare at the start of the season.

Liverpool did not have a bad first half, even if there was a bit too much of what Mourinho might have called "sterile possession" and not enough of the chances that might test Courtois.

Liverpool looked at their best when Sterling dragged Cahill into the wide areas or Lazar Markovic got at them down the right side.

There were glimpses from Coutinho in the early stages of the half, and more than once he had quicker feet than John Obi Mikel, the second change from the Mourinho team that beat Swansea 5-0 at the weekend. Mikel is brought in when Mourinho wants to reinforce the protection of his back four, and in this case he moved Cesc Fabregas forward to the No 10 role and dropped Oscar to the bench.

For all the fleet-footedness of Sterling, Markovic and Coutinho in the first half, not to mention 63 per cent possession, the best attempt on goal from Liverpool before the break was a sweetly struck, dipping Steven Gerrard shot that Courtois pushed one-handed over the bar.

The request from Mourinho that the Chelsea support lay off that song about the Liverpool captain was, naturally, ignored and there might even have been a brief shake of the head from the away team's manager when it first began.

Gerrard, starting out on the right, came in and out of the game in the first half which was as good as Mourinho could have hoped for.

Their goal began with a darting run from Fabregas down the left to the byline that Emre Can should have stopped and, failing to do so, he chased the pass to the feet of Hazard and made the challenge that cost his side a penalty.

Can took enough of the winger's leg to give referee Martin Atkinson an easy decision.

Hazard converted from the penalty spot.

Moments later, a ball struck the wrist of Diego Costa while he was grounded in his own area. A difficult decision at the best of times, but Atkinson was never going to try to call it through a thicket of players.

It changed after half-time and the confidence with which Chelsea had corralled and controlled the possession that Liverpool enjoyed seemed to slacken.

Ulsterman Rodgers' team started to get at them and when the equaliser arrived just before the hour it was well-deserved.

Sterling took the goal brilliantly: a ball down the middle from Henderson, a turn and acceleration from his England team-mate and a great finish.

Watching again it was evident that even as the ball came to Sterling in the area, Matic was nowhere near close enough.

Sterling sprang away from him in a few steps, caught Cahill flat-footed and darted left, shooting low past Courtois.

It was a marvellous finish.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas, Moreno, Markovic, Coutinho, Sterling. Subs: Jose Enrique, Lambert, Manquillo, Lallana, Borini, Rossiter, Ward.

Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis, Matic, Mikel, Willian, Fabregas, Hazard, Costa. Subs: Cech, Zouma, Ramires, Oscar, Drogba, Remy, Azpilicueta.

Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire)

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