Raheem Sterling’s flash of brilliance earned Liverpool a deserved 1-1 draw in the opening leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea.
Scorers: Liverpool - Sterling (59); Chelsea - Hazard (18 pen)
During his first spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, Blues boss Jose Mourinho came off second best in last-four clashes against the Merseysiders in the Champions League, twice, and FA Cup.
But, after Eden Hazard’s 18th-minute penalty was cancelled out by the England international on the hour, the Portuguese manager will be confident his side can get the job done in next week’s second leg.
Yet Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers, formerly a member of Mourinho’s coaching staff, and his side will have gained great confidence from this performance.
Considering the history between the clubs, there was plenty tension in the first half but it never transferred into real chances. Just three shots on target were registered, with Chelsea’s solitary effort the penalty.
It came about through Emre Can’s naivety, which in some ways is understandable as he was only thrust into the left-sided centre-back spot in a three-man defence on Boxing Day.
His first mistake was to allow Cesc Fabregas to skip past him far too easily to reach the byline, his second was to compound his error by trying to recover by connecting with Hazard.
It may not have been the hardest of challenges but referee Mike Atkinson pointed to the spot and Hazard sent Simon Mignolet the wrong way.
Gerrard’s dipping drive from 30 yards, only just tipped over by Thibault Courtois, was Liverpool’s best chance, although the last action of the half had an incensed Rodgers encroaching on to the pitch claiming a penalty after the ball appeared to hit the hand of Costa laid on the floor.
With a lead in the bag, Chelsea did exactly what Mourinho asked them to in terms of recovering their shape. The Portuguese had planned exactly for this eventuality by bringing Jon Obi Mikel in alongside regular midfield colossus Nemanja Matic.
Liverpool’s invention had to come from deeper and when Jordan Henderson slid a pass down the centre, Sterling went past Matic before the Serbia international could react, raced past Cahill into the area and beat Courtois.
It was the first goal Chelsea’s mean defence had conceded in 341 minutes and all of a sudden the visitors were properly under the cosh. This seemed to be the game the 22-year-old Coutinho came of age and his run set up Gerrard to hit the post with a placed left-footed shot before the Brazil international forced Courtois into a low save and Martin Skrtel headed over.
Chelsea’s goalkeeper was by far the busier and was at his best to save from Henderson and then react quickly to block Sterling’s rebound before palming away substitute Adam Lallana’s volley.