Chelsea's experience helped them edge Liverpool in the Battle of the Bridge
The return leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool saw the Londoners rely on their experience and know-how to go through to the finals.
After a fiercely contested draw at Anfield a week ago, many would have anticipated the fiery affair that followed in the return leg between Chelsea and Liverpool. It was a match full of controversy on an off the pitch. Mourinho missing the winning goal epitomised the hostility of this heated battle, turning around to argue with the fourth official, Phil Dowd - who found himself just as busy on the touchline as the referee Michael Oliver.
Temperatures were on the rise from early on as notorious antagonist Diego Costa knowingly stepped on the foot of Emre Can, the first of two incidents in which Costa seemingly deliberately trod on an opponent, causing a stir amongst the players. The second was on an emerging rival Martin Skrtel, and if either were seen by the referee may well have warranted a red and may yet receive retrospective action from the FA.
Costa had reason to be aggrieved during the match too, 11 minutes after the incident with Can, he was hastily brought down in the box but denied what looked a certain penalty.
Despite all of the disputes, the match was full of star quality and relentless at times as both sides showcased their attacking quality during various periods of the match. It seemed as though Liverpool had continued where they left off in the first leg, passing the ball incisively and exploiting the gaps in the Chelsea defence previously evident during their 4-2 loss to Bradford at the weekend.
Coutinho's performance fit that of the archetypal skilful and agile Brazilian playmaker, and it was a brilliant solo run that unlocked Chelsea's defence only to be denied by a brilliant and intuitive stop via the outstretched boot of Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian pulled off another instinctive save later on, denying an attempt from Moreno who marauded forward from the wing.
This prompted Rodgers to believe that Courtois was the key determinant over the two legs. "I think the goalkeeper has won them the tie really. Some of our play was very good and we created chances to score a couple of goals. Their keeper made a couple of very good saves”.
Liverpool looked a shadow of the side who struggled in the first few months of the season and rather more akin to the team who's attacking football impressed the masses last season. But it was Chelsea who came out in the 2nd half a different side, after coping with the early pressure they started to grow in confidence as the match progressed.
Eden Hazard was manoeuvring into space (completing 9 of Chelsea's 36 dribbles) with the intention of feeding in Costa when possible and was always a threat to a Liverpool defence that has recently found a new form of resiliency. The away side completed 38 tackles during the contest, with Lucas and Henderson over the course of the match hassling opponents like a crazed dogs, ultimately proving effective in containing Chelsea.
This, however, proved a dangerous ploy later on in the game after the pair, who had both been booked earlier in the match, escaped second cautions after a series of offences, which certainly ruffled the feathers of José Mourinho, leaving him bewildered as to how either remained on the pitch.
The dugout was just as eventful as the spectacle on the pitch, with former colleagues Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers getting into a scuffle after the Chelsea manager attempted to rile Liverpool assistant Colin Pascoe. After the match, Mourinho described himself and Rodgers as “different people” and hit out at him for solely singling out the performance of Courtois, without mentioning the impressive display of his own keeper Simon Mignolet.
The Reds' stopper, who has come in for criticism of late, pulled off some magnificent stops to keep Liverpool in the tie during the second half, most notably an impeccably-timed challenge on Costa, as the 'panto villain of tie' attempted to round him.
At the end of the 90 minutes the sides were yet to be separated, and the official ruling rendered the away goal by Chelsea obsolete until the end of extra-time. It was unnecessary, however, as Chelsea took the lead minutes after the restart as Ivanovic rose highest to head in a cross from a set piece from WhoScored.com's man of the match Willian. It was a cruel blow for Liverpool, with frailties when defending set-pieces often their downfall this season.
Overall, it was an enthralling cup tie that may have triggered flashbacks of previous encounters during Rafa Benitez's era at Liverpool, in which the two clubs seemed to meet so frequently. Liverpool were left rueing missed chances over the two legs, and maybe the inclusion of Sturridge may have added the predatory instinct required to finish off the chances they were presented.
Mourinho, however, once again exhibited his ability to come out on top in big matches, and the experience and knowhow in his Chelsea side may have proven to be the deciding factor in their progression to Wembley. Liverpool, meanwhile, can take some comfort in knowing that the gulf in class evident between the two sides in the early stages of the season has been somewhat eradicated.