Football

'Pool won't 
be bullied'

IN THE FIRST LEG: Eden Hazard's (above, left) penalty gives Chelsea the lead in the first half, but Raheem Sterling equalises for Liverpool after the break. - PHOTOS: ACTION IMAGES, REUTERS

Liverpool vice-captain Jordan Henderson insists they will not be bullied by Chelsea in a potentially explosive League Cup semi-final second leg tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

A 1-1 draw at Anfield leaves the tie finely balanced, but there will be a number of sub-plots when the teams take to the field at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho's side have a number of questions to answer, after conceding a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 to League One Bradford in the FA Cup.

In addition, there will be an edge to the game after Henderson and Chelsea striker Diego Costa had a disagreement on the pitch, with more verbal jousting continuing in the tunnel after the whistle.

The England midfielder played down the incident, but his actions indicate that Liverpool are prepared to stand toe-to-toe with any opponent.

In relation to the headlines which followed his confrontation with Costa, Henderson said: "I was a little bit surprised... but of course I don't know what you are talking about it."

Asked if there would be an edge to the game - in which he could be a target for home fans - Henderson added: "Probably. Liverpool, Chelsea - two big teams.

"I haven't really thought about it, it doesn't really bother me. The main thing is I go there and do the best for the team.

"You have to be strong mentally and physically and we have been that recently.

"We have shown we can be physical when we need to be, but we just have to keep going."

Liverpool will be boosted by the news that striker Daniel Sturridge could make his long-awaited return from injury.

Former Chelsea striker Sturridge, who scored 25 goals for Liverpool in all competitions last season, has not played for the Merseysiders since August after a series of persistent injuries.

Sturridge travelled to the United States over the Christmas period for treatment on a thigh problem and, having since returned to training with the first team, manager Brendan Rodgers is hopeful the England striker will be ready in time to face Chelsea.

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"Sturridge trained very, very well yesterday and that was as comfortable as he's looked," Rodgers said yesterday.

"He looked back to normal. We won't risk it, that's for sure - he's been a long time and we need to make sure he's ready."

Rodgers is also wary of a backlash from Mourinho's side after their shock FA Cup exit.

"They had a difficult result at the weekend, but it doesn't mean they're not a dangerous team and an outstanding team," he said.

"We know it will be a tough game, but we are certainly going in with no fear and our strength is in attack.

"There will be great motivation for them to go out there with a Wembley final at stake, but I'm sure there will be a wee bit of trepidation."

With a week to go before the transfer window shuts, Rodgers said he does not expect to make any new signings.

The Liverpool boss also played down suggestions that misfit striker Mario Balotelli is to leave the club.

"We'll give Mario every chance," Rodgers said.

"We brought him in to give him every chance to show that he can perform consistently for a team at this level."
 - Wire Services.