Misfiring Liverpool need Sturridge back quickly
SEMI-FINAL, 2ND LEG
(Branislav Ivanovic 94)
- After extra time, Chelsea win 2-1 on aggregate
Diego Costa proved a welcome distraction.
His stamps on Emre Can and Martin Skrtel, whether intentional or not, did not take away the fact that Liverpool deserved to crash out of the League Cup yesterday morning (Singapore time).
A Branislav Ivanovic goal in extra time condemned the Reds to a 1-0 defeat (2-1 on aggregate) at Stamford Bridge, ending arguably their best hope of winning a piece of silverware this season.
Over two legs in the semi-final, Liverpool outshone Chelsea.
Yet, over 210 minutes of enthralling action, the Blues highlighted the one quality that the Reds sorely lack: Ruthlessness.
Unless their finishing and confidence in front of goal improve drastically, Liverpool will surely end the campaign empty-handed and finish outside of the Premiership top four.
As much as they loathe Costa, for sure they would love to have someone of his calibre spearheading their attack.
Liverpool will feel hard done by at being denied a spot in the League Cup final.
They will cry foul at the perceived lack of justice, and wonder how Costa escaped punishment for his blatant infringements.
They may even privately claim a moral victory if they are desperate enough.
But, ultimately, they have only themselves to blame.
The Blues were nowhere close to their imperious early-season form.
They revealed far more weaknesses in the past month than the previous four combined.
They were, in a nutshell, ripe for the picking.
Liverpool's League Cup downfall began more than a week ago, when they should have killed off the Blues in the first leg.
At Anfield, they carved out 20 goal-scoring chances to Chelsea's two, and yet the visitors escaped with a 1-1 draw which proved crucial.
Their visit to London yesterday morning turned out to be equally frustrating.
The 3-4-2-1 formation generated a flurry of activity in the final third of the field, in fact, almost everything except the final product.
They could have gone into half-time with a handy advantage.
Alberto Moreno was through on goal, but couldn't get the better of the excellent Thibaut Courtois in goal.
Philippe Coutinho sliced through the Chelsea backline like hot knife through butter, but was thwarted again by the Belgian goalkeeper.
Jordan Henderson, who otherwise had an excellent game, missed a glorious chance to level the score in extra time, when he headed wide off a gaping goal from six metres out.
Liverpool entered this match on the back of just one defeat in 16 games in all competitions.
But the seven draws in this run suggest that an inability to kill off opponents remains.
Brendan Rodgers' decision to play Raheem Sterling as a striker in a false No. 9 system is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution.
It is why the imminent return of Daniel Sturridge, who has missed five months through injury, may represent Rodgers' final throw of the dice.
The manager had already said earlier that the 25-year-old striker will be back for Saturday's EPL clash with West Ham.
Considering his 21 league goals last term directly earned his team 20 points, Sturridge's re-appearance on the team sheet can't come quick enough.
Liverpool need Sturridge to start firing right away.
They have no choice.
He's the only hope they've left.