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MOTD: Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool (aet) (2-1 agg)
Fifty-one minutes into the Capital One Cup semifinal replay, television cameras panned to Jose Mourinho, whose mouth betrayed a small, knowing smile. Liverpool and Chelsea were going at it – immediately afterwards Mohammad Sakho’s short backpass led to Jordan Henderson’s challenge on Oscar, which in turn earned the midfielder a booking as well as brewing a fight. The passage of play only went to justify Mourinho’s smile; he wanted his side to rile up Liverpool. Chelsea have a killer combination of guts, steel, and a silver lining of skill.
In a match where each side was at each other’s throat for the full one-hundred-and-twenty minutes, what set them apart from Liverpool was neatly illustrated by the comparison between Cesc Fabregas and Jordan Henderson. Both show their heart and guts on the pitch, but Fabregas excels far better on the ball. Fabregas has that silver lining of skill that Henderson doesn’t quite possess. Even Mourinho got in on the proceedings – at one point only the fourth official stopped what nearly resulted in a brawl between Mourinho and Brendan Rodgers. He even missed Chelsea’s winning goal while complaining (again) to the fourth official, only briefly looking up before resuming his argument.
Of course, all this made for one heck of a match. Nine yellow cards were dished out and while neither Costa nor anybody else saw red, the Brazilian will tempt the FA to take action over a few of his alleged stamps and brawls. The fights provided some of the only stoppages in an match otherwise played at a breakneck pace.
Not only did it start this way, but it also maintained a torrid pace through the entire hundred-and-thirty minutes. Liverpool actually had the better of the chances in the first half, with Philippe Coutinho finding space on the edge of the box for a shot and forcing Thibaut Courtois into a brilliant kick save. It was nothing that his counterpart, Simon Mignolet, didn’t also have to face, however.
In the second period Chelsea went for the win, though if they held the 0-0 result through extra-time they could also have won the tie. Fifty-eight minutes in Eden Hazard arrowed a twenty yard effort just wide of the post after beating four defenders and two minutes later Costa’s deflected effort was kicked wide by Mignolet.
Martin Skrtel was a wall in front of Mignolet; however, even he couldn’t protect his goalkeeper from a deflection off Jordan Henderson landing right in the path of Costa – only a critical touch from Mignolet poked it out from under the Spanish forward. Oscar then tested Mignolet and Ramires came close, but Liverpool held on to push the match into extra-time.
Then, though, the breakthrough came for The Blues. Branislav Ivanovic rose up right in the middle of the mixer and sent Willian’s crossed free-kick from the right into the top right corner, past a helpless Mignolet. Liverpool needed a goal to hang on, and while Henderson came inches away from equalizing with a header having gotten in front of Cesar Azpilicueta, no further chance came for The Reds, though Chelsea came close multiple times towards the end as the visitors pushed men forward. Liverpool have consolation in holding out until extra-time – Mourinho’s men were pushing to get the job done before the end of regulation time – and did frustrate Costa up front but always needed to score.
Man of the Match: Martin Skrtel
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons and Eddie Janssens