Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1: Three talking points
Three talking points as Liverpool and Chelsea finish all square in first leg of their League Cup semi-final
Can Emre continue at centre-half?
Brendan Rodgers will point to Liverpool’s record with Emre Can in his back three when his critics question the manager’s decision to play the German at centre-half: Liverpool are unbeaten in nine games with him deployed in a defensive role. Whilst the 21-year-old is clearly competent in the position, his long-term future appears to be in midfield. Liverpool made a bright start to the first leg of their League Cup semi-final, but Can’s ill-timed challenge brought Eden Hazard down – and the Belgian made no mistake from the spot. It was the sort of challenge that you’d expect a defensive midfielder to make, but a seasoned centre-half would know better than to be sucked into such a risky tackle. Of course, Can is good at retrieving possession, which he showcased as he dispossessed Diego Costa before stretching his powerful legs and shrugging off a number of Chelsea challenges to reach Thibaut Courtois’ area later in the first half. Those irrepressible runs suggest a midfield would be more appropriate for broad Germany Under-21 international in the post-Steven Gerrard era.
Sterling boosts argument for winter break
The Liverpool manager took a lot of criticism after he gave arguably his most important player, Raheem Sterling, a winter break following a 2-2 draw with Leicester City on New Year’s Day. For the Premier League traditionalists, the concept was alien and absurd in equal measure. But the Reds maintained their unbeaten run, winning two games without Sterling, and the England forward looked sharp on his return to Anfield. The 19-year-old linked up well with Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard in the first half, although the Blue wall remained firm. Whereas Sterling may have tired in the second half in games before his winter break, the Liverpool forward had the energy and power in his legs to turn Nemanja Matic, escape Gary Cahill and finish past Chelsea’s man mountain Thibaut Courtois. Clearly, the holiday paid dividends. Tottenham Hotspur legend Gary Lineker agreed, tweeting: “Absolutely stunning goal from Sterling. Give that lad a holiday!”
Liverpool end Chelsea’s Anfield hoodoo, but can Reds win at Stamford Bridge?
Chelsea had left Anfield with three points on their last two trips to Merseyside, and when Can fouled Hazard to allow him to give the visitors a first-half lead against the run of play, the Reds appeared to be stuck in Groundhog Day. Where the Liverpool of a couple months ago may have retreated and handed Chelsea the momentum, Rodgers’ side showed their character. Sterling rescued a 1-1 draw for the home side, and it was the least the hosts deserved after a rousing second-half performance. Despite failing to beat superb Courtois for a second time, Liverpool did bring Chelsea’s winning Anfield run to an end. Now, the Reds need to secure their first victory at Stamford Bridge since a League Cup win in west London in 2011. The Reds were 2-0 winners on that occasion, going on to win the competition. However, Chelsea are yet to lose at Stamford Bridge in 15 games in all competitions. While the League Cup may be considered a second-rate competition, Rodgers would welcome the first silverware of his Liverpool reign, and beating this imperious Chelsea side on their ground en route to the final would make it all the more sweeter. And as Jose Mourinho said in his post-match interview, such a thrilling semi-final first-leg was a welcome for a competition often derided.