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Liverpool 2, Chelsea 0: Victory at a Cost

maxi liverpool goal chelsea
Chelsea 0
Liverpool 2 Maxi Rodriguez 58', Martin Kelly 63'

In the end, a well-deserved win at Stamford Bridge—the second in ten days—sees Liverpool join Cardiff and Manchester City in the semi-finals of the League Cup, with Manchester United set to take on Crystal Palace for the last open slot on Wednesday. However, another strong showing, one that for long stretches saw Liverpool top even their previous performance against Chelsea, will have to share billing with the day's other major story: An injury to Lucas Leiva that saw the midfielder stretchered off on 69 minutes after taking a blow to the knee.

Until then, Lucas had turned in his second man of the match-calibre performance in a row. Once again the best player on the pitch for either club, after dominating Silva, Nasri, and Toure of Manchester City on Sunday afternoon he made it his personal mission to frustrate Fernando Torres at every turn. Together with solid performances from both Jamie Carragher and Sebastian Coates at the back after each had a handful of nervy moments to open the match, Liverpool's solid defensive base left Chelsea frustrated and ineffective for long stretches.

Meanwhile in attack, Maxi Rodriguez was solid at both ends of the pitch yet again, arguing one more time that he deserves a more regular role than he's seen so far this season and contributing not only Liverpool's winning goal but also a solid showing in defence. Elsewhere, Martin Kelly started out looking rusty after a long injury layoff but grew in confidence as the match progressed and capped his night by scoring his first ever goal at the senior level, a header from Craig Bellamy's free kick after the Liverpool attacker had drawn the foul.

As for Bellamy, he was a bundle of energy for 79 minutes, setting up both Liverpool goals and putting in an impassioned performance after looking shaken during the tribute to Gary Speed that marked the start of the match.

Despite the squad's generally solid performance, however, it wasn't all positives for Liverpool, and after once again failing to covert possession into chances and chances into goals in the first half, the second began with a reinvigorated Chelsea side determined to make Liverpool pay for their wastefulness. With Liverpool winning the midfield battle on the back of Lucas' stellar performance, with Jay Spearing slotted alongside him as capably as he had to end the 2010-11 season while Maxi and Jordan Henderson moved inside and Craig Bellamy dropped deep, possession had slanted heavily in favour of the visiting club throughout the first half. Unfortunately, this too often only led to long, aimless balls floated towards Andy Carroll's head.

For the most part it would be hard to fault Carroll's showing on the day given the supply, though for those seeking more reason to doubt the big number nine it will have been a performance that while energetic lacked any real cutting edge. He may not have played poorly, and his workrate and willingness to get back to help in defence when midfielders found themselves stuck in the attacking zone has to be commended, yet that he still seems a largely awkward fit ten months after he arrived at his new club cannot be entirely ignored.

bellamy chelsea celebrate

When Carroll, somewhat surprisingly, stepped up to take the penalty Liverpool was awarded when Alex raised his arm to handle a Jose Enrique cross 21 minutes into the match, it was one more moment for redemption—or to bolster the chorus of doubters. In the end, that he sent his shot straight at Ross Turnbull so hard the Chelsea keeper—who guessed to his right—didn't have time to get out of the way, making the save despite himself, seemed destined to haunt Liverpool.

It likely would have, too, without standout performances from Lucas, Coates, and Reina to keep a surging Chelsea off the scoresheet early in the second. Then, as it was against Chelsea in the league the week before, a series of quick, smart passes would send Liverpool on the break with the home side committed upfield, relieving the pressure and winning the match for the visitors. Jay Spearing began the move, picking out Jordan Henderson near the half-way line, and with Chelsea's defenders scrambling back David Luiz played Craig Bellamy onside as Henderson sent him charging down the right channel. After that, it was a relatively simple low cross to an unmarked Maxi to sidefoot home, and all of a sudden Liverpool had the lead their play likely deserved—but also the one they had seemed increasingly unlikely to get.

Minutes later, Bellamy would set up Martin Kelly's goal, and the game seemed well won—another good day for a Liverpool side that has looked increasingly convincing in recent weeks, and one more reason to wonder if Andre Villas-Boas has any chance of surviving an entire season at Roman Abramovich's Chelsea. Much of the shine would soon come off the day, however, with Lucas clashing with Juan Mata, leaving the Liverpool player's knee bloodied as he lay on the pitch. He would try to brush it off, receiving treatment on the sidelines before jogging back on, but he would only make it about twenty yards before signalling for a change and immediately collapsing.

In the end, he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher, clearly in pain, while Chelsea fans jeered and booed. The travelling Kop would counter with ringing renditions of You'll Never Walk Alone, tributes to Gary Speed, and Maxi Rodriguez' infectious theme song as Stamford Bridge began to empty with ten minutes left in the game. Still, despite the joy at leaving London for the second time in ten days with a win over Chelsea and a spot in the League Cup semi-finals secured, a potentially serious injury to one of the club's most important players can't help but put a damper on the day's otherwise positive results.

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