Chelsea edged Liverpool 1-0 to remain in pursuit of a fifth League Cup title courtesy of a Branislav Ivanovic extra-time goal at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
Ivanovic ensured a 2-1 aggregate finish for the Blues after the 1-1 draw at Anfield in the first leg, separating both side with a delightful header three minutes into extra-time. The win assures Chelsea of a trip to Wembley on March 1 against either Tottenham Hotspur or Sheffield United.
Fresh from their humiliating 4-2 loss to third-tier Bradford City in the FA Cup, the west Londoners are yet banking on winning three trophies. Liverpool moreorless now have to do well in the FA Cup and Europa League to hand their departing skipper Steven Gerrard a befitting curtain call.
The match was not spared of a number of contentious tackles with referee Mike Oliver enduring double workload in a laboured first-half.
The hosts twice had a penalty appeal fall on deaf ears after Willian struck Lucas Leiva on the hand and then Skrtel appeared to stamp Costa with his foot as the Spaniard struggled to find his way down the byline. Liverpool felt Costa should have been sent off even before the second incident and the striker could face retrospective punishment for stamping on Emre Can and Skrtel- leaving the Slovakian defender in a heap- with both appeal passing unnoticed by Oliver.
Liverpool were one part victims of their own misfortunes having toyed with several goal-scoring chances. French centre-back Kurt Zouma backtracked from the halfway on an initial misjudged header to dispossess Raheem Sterling.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois built on his heroic showing at Anfield with two crucial saves, first when Gerrard singled out Alberto Moreno with a trademark pass and then when Philippe Coutinho wrong-footed Zouma through on goal.
Jose Mourinho was forced into an early change in the second half after Cesc Fabregas hobbled off following a shuddering challenge with his own captain John Terry to pave way for Ramires.
The Reds followed suit with the introduction of Mario Balotelli for the less active Lazar Markovic before Glen Johnson came on for Mamadou Sakho.
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was called into action, keeping out Costa’s deflected shot with his outstretched legs before diving at the strike’s feet as he tried to run rings round him.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 94th minute but Maurinho missed the thick of it while in a heated debate with fourth official Phil Dowd in reaction to an earlier handball incident involving Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, who was just a booking away from his marching order.
Willian lofted a free-kick to an unmarked Ivanovic, who leaped head and shoulder high to tuck home.
Henderson should have come up with a swift response but headed wide from six yards out a Sterling cross.