LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea reached the League Cup final after Branislav Ivanovic’s towering extra-time header secured a 1-0 victory over Liverpool in a rip-roaring semi-final second leg at an electric Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
The Serbian defender powered a header past Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet four minutes into the extra period to secure a 2-1 aggregate win for the four-time winners days after their humiliating FA Cup exit to third-tier Bradford City.
Both sides had good chances in normal time and were grateful to their keepers — Thibaut Courtois and Mignolet — for keeping the scores level in a blood-and-thunder encounter with plenty of controversy.
Chelsea striker Diego Costa was typically in the thick of the action and twice appeared to stamp on Liverpool players, but should also have been awarded a penalty when he was felled by Slovak defender Martin Skrtel in the first half.
Chelsea will face Tottenham Hotspur or Sheffield United, who play the second leg of their last-four clash on Wednesday with the London side leading 1-0, in the final at Wembley on March 1.
“This is a new Liverpool team (from earlier in the season) and a very difficult opponent. So I’m even happier because we beat a very good team over two legs,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho told Sky Sports.
This was a very different Chelsea side to the one that was beaten 4-2 by Bradford in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, with manager Jose Mourinho making nine changes.
The first half was played at full throttle with both teams looking to seize the early initiative, but the visitors had the better chances with Chelsea keeper Courtois producing excellent saves to deny Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho.
While Chelsea struggled to create opportunities, they did have loud appeals for a penalty waved away when Costa, who was lucky to be on the pitch after stamping on Emre Can’s ankle earlier in the match, was felled by a clumsy tackle from Skrtel.
Tempers began to flare after the break with Brazilian-born Spain striker Costa involved in another stamping incident, but as the match wore Chelsea began to craft the better openings.
Eden Hazard beat four men and drove a shot just wide, and Mignolet superbly denied Costa twice with his feet, first from a deflected shot and then when the striker was through on goal.
Ivanovic ensured Chelsea would not have to rely on the away goals rule, which would only have come into play after extra time, to progress while Liverpool’s best chance in extra time fell to Jordan Henderson, who headed wide.
For Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, the difference between the teams was Chelsea keeper Courtois.
“We were better in every aspect of our game but we just couldn’t get the big goals. Sometimes you have a barrier in your way and tonight and last week it was Courtois,” he said.