Chelsea 1 Ivanović 94'
In a grueling 120 minute encounter, Chelsea outlasted Liverpool to advance to the Capital One Cup final. There were periods of action-packed excitement in the match, but there were even more stretches of ugly stop-and-start play as tempers flared and, as the match carried into extra time, players tired.
The first half was anything but gentle, and referee Michael Oliver was under fire from both fan bases early on for how he dealt with an assortment of heated confrontations. Visiting supporters were upset when Oliver missed Diego Costa's stomp on Emre Can's leg, and Chelsea fans matched Liverpool's outrage when Oliver failed to award a penalty to Costa when he was taken out in the box in the 22nd minute.
With an identical starting eleven as the one that put Chelsea under heavy pressure last week, Liverpool began the match on a bright note. The hosts, who were buoyed by the addition of Oscar to their midfield, set out to get an early goal rather than sit back, and Liverpool responded by counter attacking into the vacated space. One of Liverpool's best chances of the half came on the counter in the 17th minute, but Raheem Sterling lacked the vision to pick out a wide open Steven Gerrard running in on goal down the right. By the time Sterling saw Gerrard, Kurt Zouma had recovered defensively and was able to clear the ball away.
Philippe Coutinho was instrumental to Liverpool's attack in the first leg, but in this match his performance was good but not quite as dominant. For the most part, Chelsea's bolstered defensive midfield duo of Fabregas and Matic (rather than Mikel and Matic) did well to shut down the space in front of their defense, and so Coutinho had a much more difficult time orchestrating Liverpool's forward movements.
That's not to say that he didn't have moments of sheer brilliance. In the 30th minute, Coutinho cut past Zouma with a quick dribbling move on the edge of the box to put himself in on goal, but his left-footed effort was blocked by Thibaut Courtois, who was phenomenal once again.
Both teams went into the half with hopes of advancing still intact. The 1-1 aggregate scoreline had Chelsea going through, but there was still plenty of time for Liverpool to get a goal.
Chelsea were dealt a blow early in the second half when Fabregas was forced off with an injury, with Ramires entering the midfield. At the time it seemed that the apparent drop-off in defensive quality from Fabregas to Ramires could allow Liverpool a second burst of attacking energy.
However, issues at the back kept the Reds pinned in their own half, and the energy exerted on defense in the final 40 minutes of regular time seemed to wear the team down. Mamadou Sakho was replaced by Glen Johnson after picking up an injury, and Chelsea immediately set out to torture the out of form defender upon his entry to the match. Johnson seemed ill-prepared for the task of stopping Chelsea's front line, and he was caught out of position on multiple occasions.
Chelsea almost put the game away in regular time, but Simon Mignolet made a pair of key saves to deny them. In the 61st minute, a shot from Costa took a deflection that caused Mignolet to dive past the ball before he was able to keep it out the net with his feet. Minutes later Costa was in on goal, but when he tried to round Mignolet, the keeper was able to tackle the ball away with a vital last ditch challenge.
Unable to land a finishing blow before the end of the second half, Chelsea entered extra time with Liverpool looking tired and on the ropes. It took only four added minutes for the hosts to break through. Willian curled in a cross from a free kick, Ivanovic thumped his header into the net and Chelsea were up 2-1 on aggregate.
Liverpool could only manufacture one real scoring chance in extra time, but it was a glorious one. Sterling crossed to the far post, but Jordan Henderson could not convert an uncontested header from right in front of goal. After that miss, Liverpool's attacking movements stagnated as Chelsea dropped deep to defend their advantage. The final 20 minutes went by unceremoniously, and Chelsea are now on to the final.
It's hard to watch 210 minutes of hard fought football and come out on the losing end. That's especially true for Liverpool fans in relation to this cup semi-final, as the matchup against Chelsea seemed like a potential turning point in a previously dreary season. That Liverpool came so close to advancing makes it hurt even more.
However, a 2-1 extra time aggregate loss to Chelsea exceeds what many expected from Liverpool. This is not the last nor the most important challenge that Liverpool will face in the coming months, and with the progress shown in these two meetings against the Blues, one can find plenty of reasons to think that things will get better soon.