Liverpool were rewarded with the toughest possible opponent in the Capital One Cup semi-finals, but dedicated and casual Reds worldwide are probably relieved to still be in the competition. José Mourinho's Chelsea may seem like a slightly bitter reward, but at the dying stages of any competition, being there is what counts most. Tottenham Hotspur will face Southampton's conquerors, League One Sheffield United, in the other semi-final.
Many observers thought that Liverpool would struggle against the free-scoring Championship leaders, but Liverpool continued to show the improved attacking display against Manchester United to emerge victorious. Next month's fixtures will feature three domestic cup ties for Liverpool in the FA Cup and League Cup. The semi-final ties are to be played on 20 and 21 January and 27 and 28 January between two Premier League fixtures away to Aston Villa and home to West Ham. Liverpool fans may be please to discover that the two-legged tie will be sandwiched between two difficult fixtures for Chelsea: Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea and Liverpool put out strong sides this week in order to best impressive Championship sides, and it's likely that both managers, with a Premier League rival and a Wembley cup final date in sight, will continue in that vein next month. Chelsea will be a serious challenge for Liverpool, as the London side has been strong all season, suffering only one defeat in all competitions at the hands of Newcastle. Even if the Premier League schedule forces Mourinho to shuffle his pack, players such as Ramires, Jon Obi Mikel, Loïc Rémy, Didier Drogba, Filipe Luís, and Petr Cech possess quality in reserve.
Liverpool famously met Chelsea in 2005's League Cup final as Rafa Benítez and José Mourinho faced off in their debut seasons in English football. It was to be the first of many cup battles between the two managers and clubs at home and abroad. Hopefully, Liverpool will emerge victorious next month and book a date against Tottenham or Sheffield United in the final. Naturally, Liverpool's league form must improve before then to go into the tie with confidence.
The Liverpool manager described the forthcoming match against the league leaders as "fantastic" and acknowledged the importance of his own version of a player he missed out on over the summer. "At Old Trafford he was unlucky not to score and he plays in that role that Alexis Sanchez does for Arsenal," Brendan Rodgers said. "He is not an out-and-out striker, he comes off and his speed and movement in front of the back four causes problems. He can go at defenders, his threat on the counter-attack and his link up play. I thought he was outstanding tonight and he has been a real catalyst for us this season."
Liverpool play the first leg at Anfield and would most likely need to take a lead of some sort to Stamford Bridge to have a possibility of qualifying for the final.
*The FA Cup Fourth Round takes place on weekend 24 and 25 January. Liverpool and Chelsea may be faced with fixture congestion with seven, possibly eight fixtures in the first month of 2015.