MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Steven Gerrard’s quest for a golden send-off as Liverpool captain reaches a pivotal juncture on Tuesday when his side host Chelsea in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final.
Gerrard could yet end his final Liverpool season with three pieces of silverware, and having inspired his team to a 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup, he now turns his attention to England’s other domestic cup.
Seventeen points off the pace in the league, Liverpool host second-tier Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday and will tackle Besiktas in the Europa League next month.
The League Cup is a competition that Gerrard has won on three previous occasions, in 2001, 2003 and 2012, and he was left out of Saturday’s 2-0 win at Aston Villa to keep him fresh for the visit of Jose Mourinho’s side.
With the days of his Liverpool career shortening, Gerrard is learning to pick his battles, and Mourinho is an adversary who has caused the 34-year-old more pain than most.
Tuesday’s game will rekindle memories of the 2005 League Cup final in Cardiff, when Liverpool were leading 1-0 until a headed own goal by Gerrard allowed Chelsea to equalise in the 79th minute.
Mourinho was sent to the stands for shushing Liverpool’s fans as he celebrated the goal, but Chelsea went on to win 3-2 in extra time, giving the posturing Portuguese his first trophy in English football.
It was Mourinho, meanwhile, who was to be seen striding down the Anfield touchline and punching his chest last April after the 2-0 win, founded upon Gerrard’s infamous slip, that heralded Liverpool’s title collapse.
While last season’s heartbreak cast a shadow over the opening months of Liverpool’s campaign, there have been stirrings of a revival in recent weeks.
Brendan Rodgers’s side have lost only once in 14 matches in all competitions, with a haul of 13 points from a possible 15 that has regalvanised their bid for a Champions League place.
“We obviously had a bump in the road in the early part of the season,” Rodgers said.
“But in this period, the team is performing at a good level — defensively strong and playing some wonderful football. It’s pleasing, but we have to keep improving.”
Liverpool’s journey in the competition already has a whiff of romance, following an epic 14-13 penalty shootout win over Middlesbrough in round one and a late comeback against Swansea City in round two.