Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1: Five things we learnt from Capital One Cup semi-final first leg

ANALYSIS

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The Independent Online

Next Tuesday night's fixture between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge will not be a cagey affair. The first leg of this Capital One Cup tie was intense, petulant and, at times, a little feisty, but what did we really learn?

Mourinho trusts Hazard to park the bus

At 23, Eden Hazard is still young. There is no doubt that he still has plenty to learn but what can be said is just how much he already understands. Last season Jose Mourinho bemoaned the Belgian's lack of effort and how he was not doing enough defensively. This season Mourinho has found it difficult to criticise a player who is quickly becoming Chelsea's best. In this fixture against Liverpool, he benefited from Emre Can's tensity to leave his defence and storm forward. It could be argued that Hazard could have exploited the space left by Can a little more. The best quality a forward can have, besides scoring, is to frighten defenders to the point where they feel so devoid of confidence they make costly mistakes. Hazard, with his quick feet and superb balance, has the ability to draw the worst out of defenders. Can was an easy target. When the Belgian jinked into the Liverpool penalty area, the German brought him down and a penalty was given. Hazard converted. With 12 goals in 27 games he becoming more trustworthy than ever before.

 

Sterling can shine through the middle

In some ways it is unthinkable that a player who is only 5ft 5inches is able to cause so much havoc in the middle of an attacking three. Raheem Sterling, however, has the ability to do just that. For large parts of last season he played as an inside forward and relied on the overlap of Luis Suarez when he reached the opposition's penalty area. The role which was so exquisitely occupied by Suarez is now where Sterling is his enjoying his football the most. He is stronger, too. Significantly, though, it is his pace and close control that still allows Sterling to be so dangerous. The lead up to his goal which levelled the tie in the 59th minute demonstrated that. Nemanja Matic failed to get close to him and Gary Cahill was already looking at Sterling's studs as the striker glided into the box before placing his shot past Thibaut Courtois in the Chelsea goal.

Mikel finally gives Mourinho an alternate blueprint

Jose Mourinho's Plan A consists of Nemanja Matic plays behind Oscar and Cesc Fabregas. Jose Mourinho's Plan B has John Obi Mikel alongside

Matic with Fabregas playing above them. Plan B is how Mourinho chose to play Liverpool. For about an hour it worked. When Chelsea were attacking, Matic was allowed to push forward with Fabregas but Mikel remained deep just in case Liverpool were to break quickly on the counter attack. Plan B in its nature is defensive and that became apparent when Liverpool three-man attack of Steven Gerrard, Sterling and Philippe Coutinho tried to work various openings on the edge of the Chelsea box. Matic and Fabregas both helped to pressure one of the three into making a mistake and Mikel dropped back to become the third central defender. It was efficient and Mikel in particular seemed to be comfortable in a position where he is best suited. Unfortunately, no plan is immune to sheer unpredictable brilliance. It was not immune to Sterling and lightning bolts of pace.

Hazard1.jpg
Eden Hazard puts Chelsea in front from the spot

Chelsea will not win on away goals

If the second leg of this fixture finishes 0-0 on the night next Tuesday at Stamford Bridge then Chelsea will go through to the Capital One Cup final on away goals scored. The odds of that happening are 10/1. It is not going to happen. It is going to be an enthralling affair and not in the least bit cagey. Chelsea will be more attacking and Liverpool will use the counter attack to utilise the pace of Sterling.

Rodgers risks playing a dangerous game

What we witnessed during the first leg was how Chelsea were able to defend effectively while maintaining an attacking threat. Liverpool cannot have both in the next game because the Blues will find several ways to exploit a defence that lacks composure and mobility. Brendan Rodgers has the chance next week to use Mario Balotelli and prove that he does have a squad good enough for him to be able to rotate players while still managing to win. Fabio Borini is also full of confidence after he scored in Liverpool's 2-0 away win at Aston Villa on Saturday. If used properly both players, along with Sterling, could cause a variety of problems for Chelsea. It would be a gutsy move. If he gets it wrong and Balotelli fails to impress - as has happened so often this season - he will look daft. However, if he gets it right, Liverpool fans may just be one step closer to celebrating their first piece of silverware for three years.

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