A Branislav Ivanovic header four minutes into extra time secured Chelsea a place in the final of the Capital One Cup after a 2-1 aggregate victory over Liverpool. Just as at Anfield a week ago, the second leg at Stamford Bridge was an absorbing contest, but the sides somehow remained goalless after 90 minutes. Chelsea would have progressed on the away-goals rule at the end of extra time, following their 1-1 draw in the first leg, but Willian found Ivanovic unmarked from a free-kick and the Serbian defender beat Simon Mignolet to break the deadlock and give Chelsea some breathing room.
Liverpool again more than played their part in a tense, all-action encounter that boiled over on more than one occasion, but once more they were unable make the most of their chances. Most frustratingly, Jordan Henderson missed with a clear chance to equalize and perhaps fitting that the semifinal tie to penalties. Instead Brendan Rodgers’ quest for a first trophy at Anfield goes on, while Chelsea can celebrate a first major final of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge and a Wembley meeting with either Tottenham or Sheffield United. It was the perfect tonic, too, just three days after their disastrous FA Cup exit to Bradford City.
Ahead of a meeting with their closest challengers in the Premier League title race, Manchester City, on Saturday, Chelsea were certainly pushed all the way. Mourinho made nine changes from the weekend, with the likes of John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard returning to the side. Just like in the first leg, however, it was Thibaut Courtois who was arguably their key man. The inexperienced Kurt Zouma was exposed twice in the first half, first when his mistimed header allowed Raheem Sterling to run clear and then when being duped by a drop of the shoulder from the impressive Philippe Coutinho. On both occasions, Chelsea’s young Belgian keeper came to the rescue with fine stops.
The first half was a frenetic, end-to-end encounter, with Chelsea seemingly lured into a pattern that was much better suited to a Liverpool side who ultimately were the team that needed to score on the night. As well as the high tempo, it was also a match characterized by tensions often spilling over. Diego Costa was involved in most of the match’s controversial moments and should arguably have seen a red card in either half after stamping on the legs of Emre Can and Martin Skrtel. To Costa’s relief, referee Michael Oliver missed both incidents, but he was also unmoved when Costa was clearly brought down in the box by Skrtel’s clumsy challenge. Completing the officials' poor evening, Henderson later survived a second booking for a handball.
Chelsea began to get more composure in toward the end of the first half, but it was an injury to Cesc Fabregas early in the second period that may ironically have aided Chelsea’s cause. Mourinho’s midfield had previously been unusually open, with Fabregas, in particular, caught out on more than one occasion. But the arrival of Ramires in his place provided more resolve, and Liverpool, who changed their shape with the arrival of Mario Balotelli in the 70th minute, created far less going forward.
Indeed, it was Chelsea who came closest to getting on the score sheet in the second half. Just as at the other end, it was a Belgium goalkeeper that kept the match goalless. Mignolet has deservedly been the recipient of much criticism this season, but he did superbly to twice deny Costa, first showing fine reactions to block a deflected shot with his legs and then making a last-gasp challenge to rob the Spanish striker of the ball after Henderson’s touch had unwittingly put him clean through.
But Mignolet could do nothing to save his side when the marking in front of him went missing and Ivanovic connected with a pin-point William delivery with an authoritative header. Still, there was more drama. Just six minutes after going behind, Sterling’s cross missed Balotelli and looked destined to be headed home by Henderson, but the midfielder put his effort woefully wide to leave Liverpool bemoaning what might have been and Chelsea looking forward to Wembley.