Chelsea’s Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois single-handedly kept Liverpool at bay for much of this exciting and open first leg semi-final. If not for the heroics of the Blues man in between the posts, Chelsea would certainly face a much different task in next weeks return leg at the Bridge.
Liverpool certainly deserved a victory after restricting Chelsea to virtually no efforts on goal. The Reds also played some of their best football of the season. They dominated the midfield and carved chance after chance to threaten the Chelsea goal. Unfortunately it yet again highlights the shortcomings of this team following the Suarez departure.
The game felt more like a Champions League semi than that of the Half-Pint competition that is The Former Carling Cup.
Both Managers showed how seriously they were taking it , as Rodgers and Mourinho fielded “almost full “strength sides. This is Pool’s best chance at resurrecting a disappointing season and as we know this competition is one that Jose holds dear, as it was the first trophy he won in England during his maiden Chelsea tenure. The fact that the Blues have this coming weekend off of Premiership duty due to a “routine” F.A Cup tie against Bradford, also helped make up Mouriinho’s mind for a strong team selection.
There was no quarter given during the whole game. Martin Atkinson, the referee had a cracker as he managed to control the Anfield cauldron which overflowed with testosterone and adrenalin. Whenever Martin Skrtel and Diego Costa go head-to-head it would be easy for things to get out of control. The referee handed out two yellow cards apiece to both sides and ignored much of the handbags at dawn shenanigans, letting the game flow and producing one of the encounters of the season.
The only “difficult” decision he had to make was the penalty award to Chelsea against the run of play in the 18th minute. As Hazard dribbled into the box, Emre Cant the liverpool defender clumsily stuck out a leg, our “other” Belgian never needs a second chance to go down. Upon replay, no-one could complain, Atkinson had the right call. Hazard stepped up and converted….
Chelsea’s game plan was always about containment and then countering Liverpool on the break. Although the game seemed more open than that, even if the stats do not back that up.
Jose stuck Obi Wan Mikel in the mix to play his usual disruptive form of football. The force was not with him today as he continues to stick out like a sore thumb, lacking in quality vs. the rest of this outstanding Chelsea team. I think the games we have lost this season have generally featured our Nigerian international… I acknowledge his commitment over the years, but why is Ramires not playing the role of “more defensive midfielder”, when he also is not getting enough first team football. Ironically I feel, we are the only team that would benefit from a players Africa’s Cup absence.
Chelsea managed to hold on to their slender lead till Half-Time, but certainly it was not an overly fair scoreline at the break.
Brendan Rodgers must have given an inspirational talk in the dressing room, as the home side came out all guns blazing for the second half.
Suddenly the tie became very one-sided. If not for Cahill in particular, the home side would and should have been level well before they actually were. In the end it took a piece of individual brilliance from Raheem Sterling to even the match. Mikel, yes that man again, lost possession in the middle of the park, Henderson fed Sterling and hitting the afterburners he was away. Matic could have taken a yellow and bought him down but decided against it , The Liverpool number 31 coolly slotted home, Courtois would have needed arms as long as his body to have had any chance.
The Anfield roar could be heard in Kevin Mirallas’s basement, drowning the sounds of self flagellation.
It then became The Thibaut Courtois show. Funnily enough he was chosen, in my opinion, ahead of Petr Cech, not in ranking, but because Cech had been in the Premmy team for 2 clean sheets now, and Jose probably was thinking it would tough to relegate our Czech to the bench against Man. City. So better give Courtois the Carling & FA Cups just in case he gets upset….. I now expect to see Petr Cech back in goal vs. Bradford, and Courtois back in the side for the crucial City fixture.
He made save after save, his moment of “Wow” (thanks MIB) , was an incredible one-handed save from a Lallana half volley – only the best keeper in the world would have stopped it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLrZUW4nm3g
Anyway, both sets of Players, managers and Fans were happy with the end scoreline. Liverpool rallied from a goal down showing significant spirit and playing very attractive football, giving them a chance of reaching the final. Chelsea withstood a barrage away from home and a win next week at Stamford Bridge sees them back at Wembley.