CHELSEA boss Jose Mourinho was relieved to establish a winner-takes-all clash at Stamford Bridge next week after navigating a potent Liverpool fightback in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Anfield.
An individual strike from Reds forward Raheem Sterling cancelled out Eden Hazard’s fourth successfully-converted penalty of the campaign, as Liverpool extended their recent resurgence with their unbeaten run now standing at eight matches in all competitions.
Hazard’s spot-kick proved Chelsea’s only shot on target in the entire contest, compared to Liverpool’s 20 attempts at goal, although Mourinho insisted the Blues’ only failing was their inability to exploit weakness in the attacking third.
“The important thing for us is that this semi-final was two legs and now it is only one leg,” said Mourinho. “I’m not saying we are the favourites, I’m saying the semi-final is one leg because this was a draw and because of that we have to win at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool have to win at Stamford Bridge, so a one-leg semi-final at Stamford Bridge.
“We were in control, maybe with a bit more quality in our passing we could find spaces and could score more goals because the way they played with the three defenders we had a lot of space to counter-attack.
“We were not very efficient in our transition when we recovered the ball. We had a lot of what I call half-chances, which is lots of space to counter-attack and with better quality of passing we would score more goals.”
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who has lifted the League Cup on three occasions, forced recalled Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois into evasive action in the 16th minute to repel a 35-yard drive.
Moments later Chelsea were awarded a penalty after Reds utility man Emre Can clumsily felled Hazard in the box, with the composed Belgium playmaker comfortably stroking past compatriot Simon Mignolet.
The Merseysiders were revitalised in the second period and equalised shortly before the hour mark when Sterling turned Nemanja Matic and utilised his electric pace to dissect the Chelsea backline, glide past Gary Cahill and fire past Courtois left-footed.
The hosts were now in the ascendency and Gerrard clipped the outside of the post with a curling effort from the edge of the box. Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho then forced Courtois into an awkward-looking parry moments later.
Henderson was the next to be denied as Liverpool continued to press before Courtois produced an outstanding one-handed save to turn behind substitute Adam Lallana’s swerving effort from the edge of the box. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: “I thought we thoroughly deserved to win the game. We showed wonderful character. Some of our play and aggression in defending was very impressive. It sets up the second leg perfectly. They are at home and probably have to open up a little bit.”