LIVERPOOL (AFP) – Raheem Sterling’s magnificent second-half solo goal earned Liverpool a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final at a snow-speckled Anfield on Tuesday.
With Chelsea leading through Eden Hazard’s 18th-minute penalty, Jose Mourinho’s side were poised to pull off a classic smash-and-grab when Sterling surged through their defence to equalise in the 59th minute.
The goal, Sterling’s seventh of the season, was a demonstration of the 20-year-old England forward’s quicksilver brilliance and was the reward for a committed and industrious display by Brendan Rodgers’s men.
“I’m delighted with the performance, disappointed with the result. We thoroughly deserved to win the game,” said Rodgers.
“We showed wonderful character. Some of our play was very impressive and it sets up the second leg perfectly because they’ve probably got to open up a bit more.
“It’s still all to play for. It was a great game and that shows the improvements that we’re making.”
Sterling’s goal prevented Premier League leaders Chelsea from recording a third successive victory at Anfield, where they famously derailed Liverpool’s title challenge last season.
Liverpool appear to have belatedly digested that disappointment, having now lost only once on their last 15 outings in all competitions.
But Chelsea’s away goal means that Mourinho — seeking to win the trophy for a third time — will feel he holds the upper hand ahead of next week’s return leg.
“It’s a draw. I am not sad as a defeat, not as happy as a victory. My emotion is in the middle,” Mourinho told the BBC.
“I’m not saying we are favourites now. This semi-final was two legs and now it’s only one match, and that’s at Stamford Bridge. We defended well and our goalkeeper was good.”
The winners will face either Tottenham Hotspur or third-tier Sheffield United in the English season’s first major final on
Predictably, Mourinho’s plea for Chelsea’s fans not to sing their song about Steven Gerrard fell on deaf ears, with the visiting supporters quick to remind the Liverpool captain about his notorious slip in the London club’s 2-0 win at Anfield last April.
But Gerrard almost silenced them in the 16th minute, letting fly with the kind of dipping 30-yard shot that was once his trademark, only for the recalled Thibaut Courtois to palm it over the bar.
It came after a spell of Liverpool pressure that briefly ignited the freezing crowd, but within two minutes, the hosts were behind.
After Cesc Fabregas darted past him, Emre Can stuck out a leg, and Hazard fell over it.