Chelsea reached the final of the Capital One Cup at the expense of Liverpool, with an extra time goal from Branislav Ivanovic proving decisive.
In a thrilling encounter at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool could perhaps once again count themselves unlucky not to come out on top – with Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois picking up a man of the match award for the second week running.
On what also proved to be a controversial night, Diego Costa was fortunate not to be sent off for a stamp on Emre Can inside the first quarter of an hour.
The Chelsea forward then took a tumble in the box under a challenge from Martin Skrtel, but referee Michael Oliver was unmoved. Replays showed Skrtel was fortunate – but whether Costa should have been on the pitch in the first place in another matter.
In a frantic first half, it was Liverpool who created the two best opportunities. Steven Gerrard picked out Alberto Moreno with a superb left footed pass, and the Spaniard saw his shot saved by Courtois as he drove towards goal.
Next it was the turn of Philippe Coutinho to be denied by the Belgian. The Brazilian dummied his way past Kurt Zouma, and hit a left footed shot across the goalkeeper – however Courtois stuck out a left foot to deflect the ball over the bar.
Chelsea’s best attempts came from Oscar, who fired wide from the edge of the box on two occasions. In fact, it took past the hour mark for the Blues to manage their first shot on target from open play in the entire tie – and Simon Mignolet had to be at his best to keep it out.
Diego Costa’s strike took a wicked deflection off of Martin Skrtel, yet Mignolet somehow kept it out with his trailing leg. The Belgian was called into action again minutes later, this time making a last ditch tackle on Costa in the box, after the ball had found it’s way into the box via an interception from Jordan Henderson.
Liverpool remained a threat on the counter attack, and Courtois had to be alert once again to sprint off his line and deny Raheem Sterling.
The game moved into extra time, and Liverpool knew they needed to score. That meant Branislav Ivanovic heading home unmarked from a Willian free kick just three minutes after the restart was not disastrous.
A goal would have taken the tie to penalties, and with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli substituted onto the pitch – both experts from the spot – the Reds may have fancied their chances.
The opportunity to force the game to penalties fell to Jordan Henderson, who met Raheem Sterling’s cross at the back post three minutes after Chelsea had gone in front. The vice-captain simply had to hit the target, but headed wide when virtually unchallenged.
In what was an end-to-end match for 120 minutes, the Reds eventually ran out of steam. But over the course of the two legs, Brendan Rodgers and his side will feel aggreived they are not the ones walking out at Wembley on March 1.