Chelsea are heading to Wembley to contest in the Capital One Cup final after a edging an enthralling tight encounter with Liverpool.
With the deadline unbroken at the end of 90 minutes, the Blues, whose away goal at Anfield last week would only become effective after the full 120 minutes, has Branislav Ivanovic to thank, as his thumping header secured Chelsea’s passage to Wembley.
It will be Chelsea’s first Capital One Cup final since 2007, and their opponents will either be Sheffield Wednesday, or more likely, Tottenham Hotspur, who emerged the victor in that 2007 show-piece.
Regardless of the future, the present was very hard work. It was a valiant effort by arch-nemesis Liverpool, who came out in force, mainly through the excellent Raheem Sterling.
But the Chelsea spirit does not die.
The first half was your classic, cagey second-leg of a semi-final, trepidation with every move as there was much to lose, but it was not without its chances.
Willian was shut off from having a go by Lucas, whilst Costa was a constant menace. Zouma made, and then corrected, his potentially fatal error but stole the ball back with inch-perfect precision. It was vital that was clean.
The open-ended game would bring dramas and Costa and Skrtel were at the heart. The Chelsea striker felt he should have had a penalty after a scything lunge by the latter, and the replays would agree. Michael Oliver did not.
Courtois proved to be the busier of the two goalkeepers, stopping Moreno’s shot, who had found an alarming amount of space down the Chelsea right. Mourinho had his keeper to thank again as Coutinho ran clear of both Zouma and Terry. It should have been a certain goal.
But with the frustration growing from Liverpool, it played into Chelsea’s hands. That is exactly how they like it. Throw in a couple of injuries — in the form of Fabregas and Luis — and then you have a proper Chelsea victory.
Costa continued to be a presence, and should have settled things when he was one-on-one with Mignolet. A simple shot from five yards was deemed not sensible and instead the intracacy of rounding the keeper deemed more elegant, but Mignolet poked a toe at it. Costa’s most notable contribution would, however, come in the form of stamps on both of Can and Skrtel’s ankles. We await retrospective action.
Henderson himself was lucky not to be sent off as he ought to have picked up a second yellow for a stray arm, as was Lucas, but the night belonged to Chelsea anyway.
It must be said Chelsea’s best threat continues to be set-pieces and when you get a good delivery, a la Willian’s in the fourth minute of extra-time, you usually get a good connection with it, a la Ivanovic’s thump into the back of the net.
Stamford Bridge erupted.
Man of the Match
THIBAUT COURTOIS: I’ve been hard on this fella namely because I’m a big fan of Big Pete, but you cannot deny he kept Chelsea in the match with a string of saves in both legs. Perhaps there was no amazingly extraordinary save, but he was a constant presence, claiming high balls from Liverpool set pieces, or reacting so quickly to open balls before Sterling could latch on. Fine concentration demonstrated. 8/10
Mourinho was appreciated of the whole Chelsea approach: “The most important thing is that we won, the group is happy and the supporters were absolutely wonderful. The final at Wembley always means a lot. Wembley has history and the fans they want to go, they pushed us.”
Rodgers agreed with my Man of the Match: “I thought we had a number of opportunities. If you assess it over two legs their goalkeeper has won them the tie. He is a world-class keeper.”