LONDON, January 26 – With Chelsea reeling from FA Cup humiliation, Liverpool will visit Stamford Bridge for their League Cup semi-final second leg on Tuesday with increased confidence of reaching the final.
Liverpool were unfortunate not to emerge victorious from last week’s first leg at Anfield, drawing 1-1, and they will scent blood after Chelsea were bundled out of the FA Cup by third-tier Bradford City on Saturday.
Liverpool’s own FA Cup tie did not go quite according to plan, a 0-0 draw with Championship side Bolton Wanderers leaving them with an unwanted replay, but they were at least spared the embarrassment that befell Chelsea.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho branded the result a “disgrace” and declared himself “ashamed” after seeing the Premier League leaders throw away a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 to a team 51 places below them in the English league pyramid.
Elimination by Liverpool on Tuesday would see his side’s potential trophy haul cut in half in the space of four days, leaving the west London club with only the league and Champions League as objectives.
“The most important competition now is the Capital One Cup because it is the next game,” said Mourinho.
“We lost at home against a lower division team and in an ideal word it will affect us in a positive, not a negative way, like we have to win the next match and let’s go for it. But I don’t know.”
Liverpool’s preparations have been further aided by the news that former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge could make his return in the game after close to five months on the sidelines with thigh and calf injuries.
“He’s had the final rehab with the medical and sports science guys and will join with the group,” said manager Brendan Rodgers.
“Now it’s just about getting that condition and football fitness and game fitness. We’ll see how he is for Tuesday. If he isn’t ready for Tuesday, he’ll be back against West Ham next weekend.”
Chelsea approached the tie as favourites, but Liverpool’s first-leg display suggested that they have overcome their early-season difficulties.
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After Eden Hazard’s penalty was cancelled out by a fine solo goal from Raheem Sterling, Liverpool came closest to securing victory, with Steven Gerrard notably hitting the post.
Liverpool have now gone 10 games without defeat in all competitions and Rodgers voiced confidence after the first leg that his side would finish the job at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard’s goal gives Chelsea a slight advantage, but away goals will only be taken into consideration if the game finishes level at the end of extra time.
The teams’ reunion has been given an extra dash of intrigue by reports that Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson and Chelsea striker Diego Costa clashed in the tunnel after last week’s game.
Both teams will recall key players after making changes for the weekend’s FA Cup matches.
Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Willian, Hazard and Costa were all left out of Chelsea’s starting XI for the shock loss to Bradford.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are expected to recall captain Gerrard after he sat out the draw with Bolton.
Tuesday’s match holds special significance for Gerrard, who is desperate to end his Liverpool career with a trophy in his hands before departing for the Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of the season.
As well as remaining alive in the FA Cup, Liverpool are due to tackle Besiktas in the Europa League next month, but the League Cup currently represents Gerrard’s best hope of signing off with some silverware.
For Liverpool to reach the final, where either Tottenham Hotspur or Sheffield United await, Rodgers may need to claim victory over his former mentor Mourinho for the first time.
The Northern Irishman worked under the Portuguese during Mourinho’s first stint at Chelsea and has failed to get the better of him in their four encounters to date, losing three times and drawing once.