The banner said “Get Gerrard to Wembley” and every utterance by and about him tonight seemed to resonate with the sense that his time is running out. “Opportunities to get to a cup final at Wembley don’t come along every season. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that,” Steven Gerrard wrote in his programme notes, heavy with meaning. Just the two more shots at Wembley.
If Jose Mourinho really intended to quell the chants about him by asking that his supporters desist from them then it was a lost battle. The game hadn’t even started under the snowflakes which drifted on the night air before the reminders of his legendary slip struck up, drowned out by Liverpool’s own chorus, in what was initially such a vocal contest that you wondered if there was a League Cup semi-final for Gerrard to add his imprint to at all.
There was and he did. It’s a measure of how Brendan Rodgers has laboured to find the role in which the captain can be a danger that the player being taunted for a defender’s error last April was in Liverpool’s front line for what may be his last clash in anger with this inveterate enemy.
What he provided was something incalculably brighter and more technical than an old stager’s last stand. Gerrard might be remembered as a mud-scarred gladiator on big nights like this but tonight he was instead at the nexus of quick, neat geometrical football which meant that Liverpool could take courage and heart at half-time, despite processing in a goal down.
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1 player ratings
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1 player ratings
1/22 Simon Mignolet
Could do little with Hazard’s spot-kick but quick off line to halt Costa in opening seconds of second period. Less busy of the Belgian keepers. 6/10
2/22 Emre Can
Played again in unorthodox position and gave Hazard opportunity to tumble and earn penalty. Stuck to task well thereafter and got forward. 6
3/22 Martin Skrtel
Led and cajoled his centre-back partners through a testing night and made a crucial challenge on Costa in the closing minutes to preserve draw for hosts.6
4/22 Mamadou Sakho
Relished muscular battle with Costa and rightly allowed to play on after Spanish-Brazilian went down easily outside area. Growing into the team.6
5/22 Lazar Markovic
Collapsed to ground in heap to earn Luis booking. Could not be faulted for lack of effort or application – but had little overall impact on proceedings.6
6/22 Jordan Henderson
Drove forward when chances arose and presented Chelsea with problems with his passing. Made Courtois work with strong shot from 20 yards.7
Remained back to allow Gerrard and Henderson to press on. Almost played Sterling through before the interval. Carded for bringing down Hazard.6
8/22 Alberto Moreno
Stationed further forward and never stopped running all night. Saw cross blocked by Willian. Fouled by Mikel but offered Reds help at both ends.6
9/22 Steven Gerrard
Tested Courtois with swerving effort and struck post after break before being replaced in forceful showing. Booked for chopping down Hazard.7
10/22 Philippe Coutinho
Fine ball through to Sterling was intercepted by Cahill and was main attacking threat behind Sterling as Reds sought to earn first-leg advantage.7
11/22 Raheem Sterling
So that’s what a break in Jamaica can do... Darted around but struggled to make an impact before driving through heart of Chelsea’s back line to level.8
12/22 Thibaut Courtois
Returned to side for first time since defeat at Spurs. Fine tip over from Gerrard and also Coutinho and Lallana. Strong handling and left exposed for Sterling goal.8
13/22 Branislav Ivanovic
Has rivalled Fabregas for assists in recent games and got forward well but was found lacking in defence. Often left others to make up ground for him.5
14/22 Gary Cahill
Struggled for form in recent weeks but made vital interception to stop Coutinho’s through ball. Failed to halt Sterling for equaliser.6
15/22 John Terry
Kept a lot busier than Saturday’s cakewalk of a match at Swansea. Troubled by trickery of a rested Sterling but kept focus as hosts turned up heat.6
16/22 Filipe Luis
Harshly censured after Markovic made most of his flailing arm. Shot over from outside area and was another to struggle with Reds’ intensity after half-time.6
17/22 John Obi Mikel
Nigerian brought back into team to allow Fabregas to move forward but does not offer same presence as the Spaniard. Lacking in composure. 6
18/22 Nemanja Matic
Kept ball flowing as Chelsea relied on counter-attack for their chances. Lost Sterling for the goal but his physicality added to an out-of-sorts defence.6
Pacy Brazilian was left to bail out Ivanovic on more than one occasion and his work rate put a few of his colleagues to shame. Taken off near the end.7
20/22 Cesc Fabregas
Deployed further forward in the hole behind Costa and linked up to great effect with Hazard in opening exchanges. As with rest of team, wilted after interval.6
21/22 Eden Hazard
Intelligent in possession but often a marked man. Enjoyed more spot-kick success than countryman Mirallas had in same city the previous night.7
22/22 Diego Costa
Not his best night. Fortunate to escape handball on stroke of half-time. Went close immediately after break but denied by rapidity of Mignolet.6
Philippe Coutinho, a beautifully poised, balanced and aware player, was the man who looked most likely to break through for Liverpool, and Gerrard has played with him for long enough now to intuit his movements. The two, with Raheem Sterling, played the kind of fast, first-touch football that Rodgers was talking about when he arrived here with his Catalunian philosophies.
Jordan Henderson, a player Rodgers has encouraged to get forward more, joined in too. Whatever the naysayers have to say about Liverpool’s fall from where they stood when they faced Mourinho here last April, the Englishman’s development has been testament to what this Liverpool manager can bring out in a player.
Gerrard was a link in this machine, not its engine, and there was more than enough to muffle the taunts. His backheel which sent a Henderson pass on the left touchline into open play, taking Nemanja Matic and John Terry out of the picture at a stroke, was memorable. Matic, on Gerrard’s shoulder, has quelled many players who have sought to drop in behind a striker this season and Chelsea generally only lose when he is missing. But Gerrard, ghostly quiet, was doing the drifting around behind Matic and that seemed to unsettle the Serbian.
There were strikes from Gerrard, too: a 20-yard pass which Gary Cahill could only get enough connection on to send behind him into Sterling’s path, and momentary danger, early on. Then, on a quarter of an hour, a 40-yard strike that sent Thibaut Courtois leaping to tilt over the bar with the fingertips of his right hand. And on the half-hour, a Gerrard free-kick from the left that Courtois punched out two-handed.
The question was always whether Liverpool had a goal or two in them. Rodgers still lacks a world-class defender, or one who can command the area. It only took the characteristic backline error to give Chelsea a lead and Liverpool a mountain to climb.
They would not be moved, though. For a change, the manager’s pre-talk of his team’s growth and developing belief seemed like more than propaganda. It was the best we have seen from Liverpool since the 3-0 win at Tottenham in late August. The equaliser which confirmed it was justified – something of the highest order from Sterling, one of a very select group who have left Matic in their wake this season, as he did here.
And moments before that, when Sterling had allowed Coutinho’s cutback to run to Gerrard, the captain applied his right instep to a ball which he placed with utmost studiousness against the base of the left-hand post, dropping to his haunches as it flew away.
In the blink of an eye his night was over. There was no hint of anguish when his number was raised and nothing like a sign of discontent, though to see Gerrard slip away early from what may be one of his last big Anfield nights, with all the intent that such an occasion was generating in him, was curious.
The options for change within this team with its need for the wing-backs is limited and Gerrard’s replacement – Adam Lallana - needed only minutes to provide his own threat. But Rodgers’ substitutions puzzle at times. You fancied that if any man could help Liverpool to the goal that would make next Tuesday’s replay something to concern Chelsea far more, it was he.
Liverpool did not regain their fluidity. They have much work still to do. Gerrard’s night confirms what always seemed likely when he announced he would be gone in June: that he will be remembered not as a shadow of his former self but as a giant, of whom this stadium will only wish they could have seen a season more.Reuse content