ESPN FC’s Alexis Nunes goes play-by-play to break down Chelsea’s extra time triumph over Liverpool on their way to the Capital One Cup final.
Liverpool were knocked out of the Capital One Cup after a tense, frenetic and often bad-tempered match at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic scored the only goal of the night in the third minute of extra time to seal the Londoners’ passage to Wembley, 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate.
Once more it came from a long-endured Liverpool flaw: a cross into the box from a set piece. The Serb rose unmarked and unhindered, guiding the ball past a helpless Simon Mignolet from close range.
In general Liverpool had performed well but despite creating the occasional chance, their toothless attack once again blocked the way to victory. Raheem Sterling once again did fruitless battle against two hulking centre-backs and when he expected the cavalry to come to his aid, it came in the form of Mario Balotelli instead.
There was honour in defeat for the Reds who gave it everything they had, but football teams without strikers rarely win matches — never mind trophies.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Simon Mignolet, 8 – His kicking began worryingly as usual but improved throughout the night. He even felt encouraged enough to leave his area and try to begin attacks once Liverpool started chasing an equaliser in extra time. He may also have gained some confidence from two excellent saves with his legs on the hour mark of normal time that kept his side in with a chance of progressing to the final.
DF Emre Can, 8 – Another good night for the German. Gave his all in defence and even tried to help in attack. Although Eden Hazard was a thorn in his side all evening he never once buckled and showed plenty of feistiness in the almost inevitable skirmish with Diego Costa.
DF Martin Skrtel, 8 – Often heroic and battled all night with his nemesis, Costa. Might have been fortunate not to concede a penalty in the first half but from then on gave it everything. Could be blamed for Chelsea’s goal but the home side have more than one threat at set pieces and Skrtel can’t mark everybody.
Skrtel fought gamely with Costa all evening but had a good night against Chelsea’s varied attack.
DF Mamadou Sakho, 6 – An uneasy evening ended with an injury for a player often so reliable this season. Had his obligatory hairy moment just before half-time but then did something even worse; his last action was to make an awful pass that forced Lucas to take a booking rather than allow Liverpool to concede. Mostly did well but he’s been better than this of late.
MF Lazar Markovic, 5 – A game of such ferocity seemed to pass the youngster by for the most part. Played a role in a mostly disciplined rear-guard action by the visitors but rarely threatened at the other end. He was the logical choice for substitution on the 69th minute.
MF Alberto Moreno, 7 – Played well but seems to be playing under strict orders of late, which is a shame as he carried a genuine threat every time he powered forward. Showed great tenacity to knock Ivanovic off the ball, which does not happen very often. Carried the game to Chelsea when he could.
MF Jordan Henderson, 6 – The whole team seemed reluctant to fully commit to attacks and Henderson epitomised that. A second yellow card was averted when the referee deemed his handball a foul but not deliberate, a curious interpretation on a night full of curious decisions. Kept going to the end as you would expect but offered little in the chase to score a vital goal. In fact he missed a header in extra time that looked easier to score.
MF Lucas Leiva, 7 – A normal night of hard work, simple passing and protecting his defence. He did commit one too many fouls in dangerous areas and was finally punished three minutes into extra time. Often looked tired but persisted to his great credit.
FW Steven Gerrard, 6 – A strange evening for the captain on a ground where he rarely excels. His early hustle was good to see but seemed to fade after twenty minutes. He did supply a wonderful ball to Moreno who should really have done better. Often chose to shoot when a pass seemed the better bet, hardly surprising during a game where the rival fans sang his name more than the travelling Liverpool fans did.
Coutinho was Liverpool’s star performer but he couldn’t do enough to lead the Reds to victory.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 8 – Wonderful performance. Chelsea rarely got him under control all evening. Created a great chance all by himself and was foiled by the outstanding Thibaut Courtois. Fizzled out during extra time but still created more danger than his colleagues.
FW Raheem Sterling, 7 – No wonder goal this evening, he once again had to do battle with two centre-halves on his own as he was often left isolated with his team trying to play on the break. He was the recipient of some overzealous tackling, in fairness. Pushed back to accommodate Mario Balotelli, he was more dangerous as a result but blasted over when he might have done better with a more calm approach.
DF Glen Johnson, 6 – Brought on for the injured Sakho, he had one or two awkward moments in an unfamiliar role but slowly became more assured. Willian gave him trouble during an excellent performance but Johnson remained focussed until the end.
FW Mario Balotelli, 4 – Brendan Rodgers’ belief in the Italian’s ability to weave some magic and find some kind of form must surely have vanished by now. One or two decent flicks and the odd show of strength on the ball aside, most of his time was spent ambling around ineffectually and any moment of danger was doused by his innate selfishness.
FW Rickie Lambert, NR – Late and futile gamble from his manager halfway through extra time. Curiously spent most of his time on the wing, supplying crosses he was presumably sent out to be on the end of.