Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1: 'The Jamaica break has done Raheem Sterling the world of good. He was outstanding,' says Brendan Rodgers

Sterling equalised for the Reds at Anfield after magical run

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The Independent Football

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said tonight that there was “absolutely no doubt” that his side could get the win they need at Stamford Bridge next week to reach the League Cup final, after their best performance of the season saw them push Chelsea in a hard-fought draw at Anfield.

Rodgers said he was bitterly disappointed that his side had not been awarded one of the two penalty shouts he claimed they were denied, after Chelsea had gone ahead with a spot-kick of their own. Diego Costa seemed to handle the ball the ball while on the ground in the area moments before half time, though the other penalty Rodgers claimed was for Thibaut Courtois handling outside the area, which at best would only have been a free kick – albeit with a possible dismissal for the Belgian goalkeeper – if the referee had punished it.

“I was so disappointed we never got at least one penalty,” Rodgers said. “It is a clear handball by Costa so how we didn’t get that. Their goalkeeper who had to be outstanding has handballed it outside the area so it is a penalty. You see defensively how we were, aggressive, compact [tonight.] They have got top-class players. I thought the performance tonight was a benchmark. There is ab no doubt we can go to the second leg and get the performance we need.”

 

Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard was fundamental to the quality of their play, hitting the post and drawing a save from 40 yards out, from Thibaut Courtois. When Jose Mourinho, a long-time admirer who tried to sign Gerrard in the summer of 2005, was asked if would be tempted to buy him when he leaves Anfield, he jokingly replied:  "Or perhaps to take him on loan?” He added: “I would love the Premier League to keep the best players and I believe he has the quality to play for more years."

Though Liverpool struggled to convert their incisive football into a goal in the first half, the equalising second half goal by Raheem Sterling was sublime, leading Rodgers to reflect on the value of him having been given a two-game break with his family.

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Emre Can (right) reacts after Chelsea score with the penalty

“The rest has done him the world of good,” Rodgers said. “He was outstanding. He has that ability to move in behind but he can also exploit the space in front. His speed was frightening to come in and finish, wonderful goal. He certainly deserved that. It was a big performance from us. It is always difficult they sit in a low block, the spaces are closed and especially if you go 1-0 behind. They know how to defend. They will be happier in terms of the scoreline but I am happy our performance levels are improving all of the time.”

Mourinho said his players had been negligent in conceding possession too easily. “We were facing three defenders [in Liverpool’s] tactical system: lots of space to counter attack and Eden [Hazard], Willian and Diego [Costa] in great positions but we lose so many passes. Recover the ball; lose the ball. Obviously Liverpool doesn’t deserve to lose but I go frustrated because we had lots of situations where we recovered the ball in a low block, we recover the ball so many times.”

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Raheem Sterling celebrates his equaliser

The Chelsea manager reflected that “a two leg semi-final… now becomes a one leg semi-final. The draw, the goals away are not important so 0-0 is not good for us and 2-2 is not good for Liverpool. We have to win. Liverpool have to win.  A one-leg semi played at Stamford Bridge.” He said that the atmosphere Anfield made last night’s match far tougher than next Tuesday’s second leg.

“To play here is obviously difficult and to transform the two leg semi-final into a one leg semi-final at Stamford Bridge is obviously better for us because this stadium plays. People don’t come to this stadium to see football, they come to play football. They cannot kick the ball because they are in the stands but they come to play.”

Mourinho, who feigned ignorance of suggestions that Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado – a possible £7m Chelsea target – was a guest of the club tonight, as usual rejected the idea that Chelsea could win a domestic treble. “No,” he said to that suggestion. “It is too difficult.”

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