It will be #Chelsea and not #Liverpool that contest the final for the first silverware of the English domestic #Football season, after the Blues clinched their semi-final contest in the Capital One Cup at Stamford Bridge last night. A solitary goal from Branislav Ivanovic proved to be the difference between the two sides in a vibrant second leg match in the capital city. In a close and sometimes brutal battle, both sides had several chances to clinch the game in normal time, but with Liverpool needing a goal to stay in the competition, it was the home side that instead took the victory on the night and over the two legs.
After a close 1-1 draw at Anfield, where the home side had the bulk of the chances but were in the end pleased to maintain parity, the Reds started promisingly in the first-half of the return leg. They knew that the away goal rule required them to score at least once in the second-leg if they were to progress further in the competition, and created a number of good chances during the first forty-five minutes. Raheem Sterling, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho all squandered presentable opportunities to put their side ahead, as Thibaut Courtois kept them at bay. The hosts also had cause for annoyance, when Martin Skrtel made a clumsy challenge on Diego Costa that they thought should have been a penalty.
The second-period saw the home side make much of the running, as they sought to finish the tie off. Simon Mignolet in particular excelled in goal for Liverpool, keeping them in the game with several instinctive saves, his alertness to deny Costa as the Spaniard seemed to be past him was especially praiseworthy. Ramires blazed wide for the hosts on 68 minutes as the crowd waited for the net to bulge. Jordan Henderson was slightly fortunate to escape a second yellow card, when the ball clearly struck his hand, yet the referee deemed a free-kick sufficient punishment.
Sterling almost snatched it for Liverpool two minutes from time, as he cut in sharply from the left but failed to find the target with a right-foot shot.
Into extra-time and up stepped Ivanovic to head his side into the lead from Willian's free-kick. The basic equation for the away side remained unchanged, however, as they still knew that a goal by them was required, yet it would now only serve to push the tie into a penalty shoot-out. They failed to meet the requirement though and Ivanovic's goal confirmed a 2-1 aggregate success for Chelsea, with no need for the contentious away goal to come into play.
The after-match reverberations concerned a couple of unsavoury incidents involving Chelsea's leading marksman Costa, who seemed to stamp on both Emre Can and Skrtel according to replays. He escaped punishment on the night, but the incidents may be investigated further depending on the referee's report. That will be of little comfort to the losing side though, as a red card could have swung the tie their way, but they will now never know.
Jose Mourinho has been fined £25,000 in the wake of comments he made back in December, where he claimed that there was a general "campaign" to ensure that the referees made decisions against his side. After the incidents of last night, it remains to be seen if he has changed his view or not on that topic. He also seemed to indicate before the match that he had spotted a "fatal flaw" in the Reds' tactical set up, which he believed that he could expose during the match. Whether that 'plan' involved an injury time winner from his defender remains to be seen.Chelsea now wait to see who they will meet in the final on 1st March at Wembley, with the second semi-final between Sheffield United and Tottenham interestingly poised at 1-0 to Spurs. The Bramall Lane crowd for tonight's second-leg tie will be hoping that they can reverse that deficit and roar their side to the London showpiece.