Sterling rescues Liverpool as Chelsea stand firm at Anfield
Liverpool can only come away with a draw despite 20 efforts on goal in first leg of semi-final
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1. The first leg of the league cup semi-final finished all-square thanks to a brilliant individual goal from Raheem Sterling, who saved the home side with a vital equaliser on the hour mark after Eden Hazard had given Chelsea the lead with a penalty.
The 20-year-old Sterling was sent on holiday last month by Liverpool after playing more minutes of Premier League action that any other Red in the first half of the season.
A few days sea and sun in Jamaica seems to have put a spring in Sterling's step and as a result of his intervention the two teams travel to Stamford Bridge next Tuesday with everything still to play for.
"It was not a physical rest, more a mental rest for a young player that has had so much thrown on him," explained a satisfied Brendan Rodgers after the tie. "Sometimes as a manager you have to look at each individual player, and he's come back refreshed and ready for a big second half to the season... you can see tonight he's fresh."
There was little fresh about the way Liverpool conceded the game's opening goal. Their defence has been suspect all season and was at fault once again as Cesc Fabregas was given space to scamper down the touchline before Emre brought down Eden Hazard in the Liverpool penalty area. The Belgium dusted himself down and took the spot-kick himself, sending Simon Mignolet the wrong way to put the Blues 1-0 up.
Thereafter the Reds dominated, spurred on by captain Steven Gerrard who rattled the post with one effort and also forced a fine save from Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois. It was one of 20 Liverpool attempts on goal compared to the visitors' two.
Despite Courtois' heroics between the sticks he was helpless to prevent Sterling's equaliser. Racing away from Nemanja Matic, the young striker was too quick also for Gary Cahill and his low shot fizzed past Courtois to the delight of the Kop.
Liverpool dominated the final quarter but Adam Lallana – on for Gerrard – saw his strike brilliantly saved by Courtois as the Blues held on for the draw.
"Some people say that the League Cup is a secondary competition, but for big clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea in the semi-final it's not," commented Jose Mourinho. Asked how he viewed the balance of power ahead of the return leg, the Chelsea boss replied: "I am not saying we are favourites, but Liverpool have to come and win at Stamford Bridge now."
Rodgers believed his side "thoroughly deserved to win the game" and appeared bullish ahead of next week's rematch, declaring: "It sets up the second leg perfectly because they're at home and have probably got to open up a little bit."