Branislav Ivanovic, Thibaut Courtois the Difference as Chelsea FC Defeat Liverpool


Referee Michael Oliver finally blew his whistle as Liverpool attempted one more foray into Chelsea’s half. The stands erupted and Jose Mourinho punched the air in jubilation as the Blues booked their ticket to Wembley for the Capital One Cup final.

Mourinho played his first-choice starting eleven, sans Gary Cahill and César Azpilicueta. Filipe Luís filled in quite well on the left once again, while Kurt Zouma had himself a game in central defense. the big Frenchman was able to show off plenty of athleticism.

The Reds played three at the back as they did during their home leg. They used Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno to provide width, and Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho were their main threats going forward. It allowed them plenty of space in between Chelsea’s midfield and defense.

The match was open from the beginning. Liverpool attacking intent was obvious from the whistle and, for the most part, they played the stylish football they were aiming for. Chelsea, on the other hand, knew they had the edge between the two sides, having secured an important away goal in the first leg of the fixture.

It was end-to-end action for nearly the full ninety minutes with the play particularly opening up around the sixty-minute mark. Unfortunately, the nice play was marred by sub-par passing on both sides. Chelsea got the ball into good areas only for the final pass to be lacking. When possession was lost, though, Chelsea players were on hand to press – many times in pairs – and often times came away the victors.

The difference in this game wasn’t the passing, though, it was something that the Blues have lacked in the past few matches: drive. The Chelsea players wanted this more and it was evident. The work rate provided by each and every player in a Blue shirt to help out in attack and, just as quickly, get back and defend was phenomenal. Ramires’ introduction in the 50th minute added extra verve to the Chelsea midfield and his energy seemed to rejuvenate the other players. If only for a little more quality in the final third this game wouldn’t have gone to extra time.

Yet, it went to extra time, and that’s where the mighty Serbian cave bear they call Branislav Ivanović made the difference. In the opening minutes of the first half of extra time Oscar was brought down near the corner of the box by Lucas, who was extremely lucky not to see a second yellow card. Willian swung in a good ball for Ivanovic to dispatch past Simon Mignolet — probably earning himself a spot on Steven Gerrard’s blacklist. Iva peeled away in celebration as Costa goaded the Liverpool fans behind the net.

That goal seemed to knock the remaining life out of Liverpool. Chelsea was able to hold possession for most of the remaining time. Eden Hazard and Oscar were always a step ahead of their pursuers, and Diego Costa further endeared himself to the Chelsea faithful by attempting to fight every Liverpool player who came in close proximity to his person.

The Reds found within themselves one last attempt in the 99th minute as Sterling whipped in a cross that found Henderson right in front of goal — the ball begging to be buried — only for the midfielder to glace a header just wide of the target. It was the last outright chance Liverpool would have for the remainder of the match.

In the end it was Thibaut Courtois who earned man of the match honors, and deservedly so. The goalkeeper made impressive save after impressive save, denying Moreno for one of Liverpool’s best chances during regular time. Throughout both legs it was the big Belgian’s play that kept Chelsea within reaching distance of the final.

Now it seems fate is with Jose Mourinho. The Capital One Cup was the first piece of silverware he won in his first stint in west London, and it may as well prove similar this time around.

Chelsea will face either Tottenham or Sheffield United in the final.