Section: Liverpool

FA Cup: Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool

Liverpool exorcise Selhurst Park demons, reach FA Cup quarterfinals

Liverpool exorcised some demons at Selhurst Park by reaching the FA Cup quarterfinals with an impressive win against Crystal Palace.

Brendan Rodgers’ side returned to south London in Saturday’s late kick-off looking to avoid another horror show at the ground where last season’s title dreams went up in smoke before then suffering a 3-1 loss this term.

An early Fraizer Campbell goal had the Reds fearing another nightmare result, yet their dominance eventually told as Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana goals secured a 2-1 comeback win.

Victory keeps alive the dream of Steven Gerrard ending his Liverpool career by holding the FA Cup aloft on his 35th birthday, although for a while it looked like Alan Pardew could be involved in another upset against the Merseyside giants.

The Palace manager’s extra-time winner secured the Eagles a famous win against the Reds in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final and he was celebrating again after 15 minutes, when a gaffe from Martin Skrtel allowed Campbell to slot home.

Dwight Gayle could have doubled that lead as half-time approached but that would have been harsh on Liverpool, who had 17 shots over the course of the opening period.

Furthermore, Palace debutant Pape Souare got away with a penalty after taking down Sturridge, who started the comeback four minutes after the break, finishing a fine team move with aplomb.

It was a fantastic volley from the England striker, whose international team-mate Lallana scored what proved to be the 58th minute decider – directing home after Julian Speroni failed to deal with a stinging Mario Balotelli free-kick.

Few could argue with the result as Liverpool impressed from the outset, with Sturridge directing a Lazar Markovic cross wide early on.

Rodgers’ side were looking decent but they were almost caught out when Joe Ledley sent a wonderful through ball to Gayle, only for Skrtel to cut out his threatening cross.

It was a timely interception by the Slovakian defender, who undid that good work in the 15th minute.

Skrtel’s attempted clearance from a high Ledley ball forwards ended going backwards after a slight nudge from Gayle. The forward chased the loose ball and forced Simon Mignolet into a save, only for the ball to fall kindly for Campbell to slot home.

It was a sucker punch but one Liverpool responded well to.

Speroni did fantastically to prevent Lallana drawing parity after a fine, intricate team move, before Philippe Coutinho tested the Palace goalkeeper in twice quick succession.

Jordan Henderson was the next to call him into action, before Sturridge was left perplexed as to why referee Robert Madley did not point to the spot soon after being brought down by Souare.

The visiting fans certainly let their displeasure known, although that anger almost turned to joy as Joe Allen volleyed just wide, with Coutinho and Markovic having efforts as Pardew’s men rode their luck.

Liverpool were in complete control yet would have gone in two-down at the break was it not for Mignolet stopping Gayle.

A two-goal deficit would have harsh and, smelling blood, Balotelli was brought on in place of Markovic at the break.

Palace, too, made a change with Marouane Chamakh replaced by Jason Puncheon, who flashed an effort over within a minute of his introduction.

It was again Liverpool looking the most threatening side and they drew level in some style inside four minutes of the restart.

Allen’s ball between the lines found Henderson, whose cute, clipped ball was met by a wonderful left-footed volley by Sturridge.

Palace attempted to go back ahead through Joel Ward and Gayle, although Liverpool were looking confident and went ahead in the 58th minute.

Scott Dann was adjudged to have fouled Balotelli, whose stinging effort from the result free-kick was spilled by Speroni into the path of Lallana.

Palace went with a more attacking approach in search of a leveller but they were struggling to break down the Liverpool defence and create clear-cut chances.

The Reds appeared happy to soak up the pressure and Henderson saw a cross cut out by Scott Dann, before Rickie Lambert had an effort deflect over.

Gayle blazed a late free-kick over but Palace never really looked like drawing level as Palace fell to a second defeat in all competitions under Pardew.

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Premiership: Liverpool 3-2 Spurs

Liverpool’s Mario Balotelli picked the perfect time to score his first Premier League goal for the club as he stole the headlines from the battle between England strikers present and, potentially, future.

All the talk prematch was about Daniel Sturridge and his free-scoring Tottenham counterpart Harry Kane.

No-one had mentioned Balotelli, back in the squad for the first time in four matches after a substitute appearance in the Capital One Cup semifinal at Chelsea.

No-one had given him a second thought and when he replaced Sturridge after 74 minutes there were probably not many inside Anfield who gave him a hope of scoring.

But he displayed a predatory instinct not previously seen since his 16 million piund summer move from AC Milan to convert fellow substitute Adam Lallana’s cross from close range seven minutes from time.

If he does little else in his time at the club, which remains in doubt despite him surviving the January transfer window, his goal against the Reds’ top-four rivals could still prove pivotal.

It lifted his side to within two points of third-placed Southampton, who have a match in hand, and also fourth-placed Arsenal.

Without his late intervention the debate would have centred around Kane and Sturridge.

The Spurs striker scored his 23rd of the season, equalising Lazar Markovic’s opener, while the closest his opposite number came was a clever backheel against the post.

Sturridge did win the penalty from which Steven Gerrard scored his 10th of the campaign but that was soon cancelled out by Mousa Dembele’s close-range effort.

In truth there could not be a truly fair comparison between the two strikes on show as Sturridge was starting his first match since August 31 – coincidentally the 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane – after two substitute appearances while Kane has been on a hot streak since the end of September.

Sturridge, still feeling his way back into Premier League action after the thigh injury which sidelined him for five months, still looked half a yard short of his very best blistering pace but his reactions in front of goal seemed to be up to speed.

Twice Hugo Lloris denied him, once after Ryan Mason had given the ball away, but the France goalkeeper will question himself over Liverpool’s 15th-minute opener.

Simon Mignolet’s punt downfield dropped straight at Sturridge’s feet, Spurs did not clear and Markovic took full advantage to plant a shot past Lloris, who should have done better given his class.

Tottenham were losing the battle in midfield as Liverpool’s pace of passing and movement had them chasing shadows – which may explain why Nabil Bentaleb gave the ball straight to Sturridge and had to be rescued by Eric Dier’s saving tackle.

Momentum was with the hosts but Kane’s equaliser soon put the brakes on that.

The 21-year-old’s first sniff of a chance had been dealt with by Martin Skrtel but he made no mistake with his second, turning Mamadou Sakho and leaving the France defender on the floor as he collected Erik Lamela’s pass and fired under Mignolet.

It was the first goal Liverpool had conceded in 416 minutes and the first from open play since New Year’s Day.

The game opened up even more, which benefited youngster Jordon Ibe who drove one shot into Lloris after a good run and then crossed for Sturridge to backheel against a post as Tottenham’s defence panicked.

Sturridge maintained his threat after the break and it was his weaving run which was halted by Danny Rose inside the penalty area, although it took a linesman’s flag to convince Dowd to award the spot-kick.

Gerrard slotted home to make it 10 for the season, becoming his side’s leading goalscorer, but any control they had had over the game had long gone.

Mignolet tipped over a rasping Lamela drive and did well to keep out a Christian Eriksen free-kick but Dembele was on hand to turn the ball home from close range.

Balotelli replaced Sturridge after 74 minutes and entered the pitch to words of encouragement from four sides of the ground.

It was more in hope than expectation, although there is still a groundswell of feeling among fans for the Italy international to succeed despite his underwhelming performances so far.

But he delivered when his side needed it most, nipping in behind his marker in the six-yard box to divert Lallana’s cross into the net.

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Premiership: Everton 0-0 Liverpool

Everton and Liverpool played out a grim spectacle as the 224th Merseyside derby ended in a goalless draw at Goodison Park.

The game had been billed as Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s farewell to this Premier League fixture – but apart from one second-half bicycle kick that was deflected over the top, the 34-year-old struggled as much as anyone else in his 33rd derby to lift this game out of mediocrity.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was almost rewarded for the bold decision to give teenager Jordon Ibe only his second league start when he hit the post with a thunderous first-half effort.

Everton, meanwhile, only produced a serious threat when Ross Barkley was given a five-minute cameo, setting up an opportunity for Seamus Coleman which brought a fine late save from Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet.

Rodgers and his Everton counterpart Roberto Martinez are renowned for their power of positive thinking, but it was only in a defensive sense they will get satisfaction here.

Everton subdued Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to record a third successive clean sheet, with John Stones outstanding, while Liverpool extended their recent run to only one defeat in 14 games in all competitions.

Daniel Sturridge got another 35 minutes in the tank – but this was a far cry from the 3-3 classic Everton and Liverpool played out here at Goodison Park last season, with the Toffees now having gone 10 derbies without a win.

Everton lost the influence of Leighton Baines through injury while Rodgers produced a surprise selection by starting with youngster Ibe, who was recalled to Liverpool last month after an impressive loan spell at Derby County.

And in a first half high on endeavour but short on quality, Rodgers’ move almost paid the perfect dividend when Ibe ended a surging run on the right with a powerful rising drive that struck the woodwork with Joel Robles beaten.

Liverpool were forced into a reshuffle when reliable midfield anchor Lucas limped off to be replaced by Joe Allen but this was a game marked by a lack of end product from both sides.

Sterling had been well marshalled by Everton’s own England youngster Stones but he almost broke through just after the break, only for Robles to block at his near post.

Gerrard was looking for that moment of inspiration to mark his last league derby and he almost found it was an athletic bicycle kick which was deflected just over the bar off by Steven Naismith.

As the deadlock continued, both managers made changes, with Sturridge replacing Coutinho and Aaron Lennon making his Everton debut following a loan move from Spurs by coming on for Kevin Mirallas.

Martinez attempted to solve Everton’s lack of threat by introducing Barkley with five minutes left and he almost produced the desired result with a powerful run and pass that released Coleman, whose angled shot gave Mignolet his first meaningful action of the game.

There was to be no dramatic late twist – and in truth this game was so ordinary it did not deserve one.

Read more at BBC Sport

FA Cup: Bolton 1-2 Liverpool

Liverpool secure late win at Bolton thanks to fine Philippe Coutinho strike

Philippe Coutinho celebrated his new five-year contract with an added-time winner as Liverpool kept their FA Cup hopes alive in a dramatic late turnaround at Bolton.

The Brazil international committed his long-term future to the club on Monday and marked the occasion with only his third goal of the season in the second additional minute to seal a 2-1 win.

Raheem Sterling had equalised in the 85th minute as Wanderers buckled under the pressure of having to play the last 25 minutes with 10 men after Neil Danns’ dismissal following Eidur Gudjohnsen’s disputed penalty.

It kept alive the hope of a fairytale ending to Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool career before he flies off to join Los Angeles Galaxy, with the final falling on the day of his 35th birthday.

The Liverpool captain was making his 700th appearance, becoming only the third person to reach the landmark for the club after Ian Callaghan (857) and Jamie Carragher (737), in this tie but for once he was not the one to influence proceedings.

But for a long time it looked as though it would be a miserable occasion for the midfielder as Neil Lennon’s team produced a similarly admirable defensive performance to the one which had earned them a goalless draw at Anfield, and for 85 minutes it looked like being the perfect gameplan.

With injury denying Emile Heskey another chance to face his former club, defender Matt Mills started the match as a makeshift striker alongside Eidur Gudjohnsen.

His lack of experience in the position was reflected by the pre-match odds, which had him at 50-1 to score with midfielder Darren Pratley, out for six weeks with a hamstring injury, rated a better bet at 20-1.

As in their first meeting, chances were at a premium for Wanderers and the best, as at Anfield, fell to Gudjohnsen who ballooned over from Josh Vela’s cross, and David Wheater who headed straight at goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool, as you would expect, created the greater number of opportunities, with Sterling planting a shot against the post after being given far too much time to turn and pick his spot by the Bolton defence.

It was a rare error of judgement in the first half as they restricted the visitors to weak efforts from Gerrard, Coutinho (twice) and Sterling.

Dorian Dervite produced the tackle of the match early in the second half to dispossess Sterling just as he was about to pull the trigger having raced on to Coutinho’s pass as the hosts’ defending continued to keep the Premier League side at bay.

If Liverpool were frustrated by their opponents then they were infuriated by referee Roger East’s decision to award a 59th-minute penalty.

Skrtel was naive in dangling a leg but the 19-year-old Clough showed the nous of an old pro in taking full advantage to go down from minimal, if any, contact.

Gudjohnsen drilled home from the spot but Bolton soon found themselves down to 10 men when Danns was sent off for a second bookable offence for a foul on Joe Allen.

Daniel Sturridge was sent on to find a goal in the final 20 minutes, just as he had on his comeback against West Ham on Saturday, but it was Jordan Henderson, another substitute, and defender Emre Can who came closest, with the former’s volley deflected on to a post by Wheater and goalkeeper Andy Lonergan finger-tipping the other on to the crossbar.

Sterling was the saviour five minutes from time as he slotted Can’s pass through Lonergan’s legs – Liverpool’s 700th FA Cup goal – before Coutinho bent one into the top corner from distance as Bolton’s resistance eventually broke and the Reds booked a fifth-round tie at Crystal Palace.

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Premiership: Liverpool 2-0 West Ham

Daniel Sturridge scores on Liverpool return in win over West Ham

Striker Daniel Sturridge enjoyed the perfect return from injury as he scored within 12 minutes of coming off the bench to give Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions a timely boost.

The 25-year-old had been missing for five months — 33 matches and 3,030 minutes of football in total — with thigh and calf injuries but showed he had lost none of his clinical finishing skills with an angled strike past Adrian to complete a 2-0 victory over West Ham.

His short-term stand-in Raheem Sterling had scored his fifth goal in 10 matches, which is not a bad return for an only-recently converted centre-forward, to put the Reds on the road to victory but Sturridge applied the finishing touch to put the result beyond doubt.

Sturridge’s 22-minute run-out, having replaced Lazar Markovic, could not have gone better and it ensured another England striker did not grab the headlines on his return to Anfield.

Exactly four years to the day Liverpool signed Andy Carroll in a still staggering club-record 35 million pound deal but having been unceremoniously dumped by Brendan Rodgers the big front man arrived with a point to prove.

The only points he made in the first half, however, seemed to come from his elbow as he caught Emre Can in the mouth and Markovic in the face either end of the half.

His first indiscretion, which left the Germany Under-21 international with a bloodied mouth, appeared to carry more intent than the second, accidental knock, but referee Andre Marriner saw nothing he felt warranted a foul.

Aside from one header, easily saved by Simon Mignolet, at a corner that was the sum effort of his afternoon.

After the break his clumsiness continued when he was booked for catching Emre Can with a late, sliding tackle. He appeared to injure himself and was replaced by Carlton Cole soon after.

Liverpool showed many familiar traits; quick passing, neat build-up until the final third and a lack of threat inside the penalty area.

Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana — back in the starting line-up for the rested Steven Gerrard — and Markovic (twice) had their best opportunities while Sterling wanted a penalty just before the break after Joey O’Brien appeared to haul him to the floor.

However, the West Ham defence could not get near the England forward for his goal six minutes after half-time when he slotted Coutinho’s brilliant through-ball past Adrian.

It had all the hallmarks of a genuine striker’s cool finish and was a reflection not only of Sterling’s continued improvement in front of goal but also the growing understanding between himself and Coutinho, another of the Reds’ bright young things.

Rodgers has frequently described the Brazil international as a “magician” and his ability to produce the trickery to unlock defences as tight as West Ham’s will be something Sturridge will relish as he makes his way back into the action.

He certainly took full advantage after coming off the bench in the 68th minute.

Having received a rapturous reception from an Anfield crowd starved of his goal threat for far too long he rewarded them with an angled strike after exchanging passes with Coutinho.

It was almost like he had not been away but it was evident there was some rustiness when he snatched at the rebound from fellow substitute Jordan Ibe’s shot.

Where Liverpool would have been now had Sturridge been fit for the majority of the season is a hypothetical debate but this result meant they moved ahead of their opponents, who have not won at Anfield since 1963.

Where they are now is eyeing a Champions League spot, buoyed by the return of their first-choice goalscorer, with fourth-placed Southampton just points away, albeit with a match in hand.

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League Cup: Costa charged over stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can

Diego Costa has been charged with violent conduct over one of two apparent stamps during Chelsea’s win against Liverpool in the League Cup.

Costa was accused by Liverpool of stamping on Emre Can at Stamford Bridge and then of a further stamp on Martin Skrtel.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho insisted that both stamps were “absolutely accidental” and also lashed out at Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp over criticism of the striker, while Liveprool boss Brendan Rodgers described Costa’s actions as “poor”.

The FA was aware of the controversy following the 1-0 semi-final second-leg win at Stamford Bridge – which saw Chelsea through to the final 2-1 on aggregate – and was waiting for referee Michael Oliver’s report.

However, the FA has now revealed in a statement: “Diego Costa has been charged by The FA for violent conduct following an on-field incident which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video.

“The charge is in relation to an incident involving the Chelsea forward and Liverpool’s Emre Can which occurred in the 12th minute of the League Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge last night.

“The player has until 6pm on Thursday to respond to the charge.

“Following a review of an incident during the game involving Costa and Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, The FA will not be taking any further action.”

Costa faces the prospect of a three-match ban, which would rule him out of Saturday’s Premier League showdown with title rivals Manchester City as well as matches against Everton and Aston Villa. There is no right of appeal.

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League Cup: Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool AET (2-1agg)

Branislav Ivanovic goal for Chelsea sees off Liverpool in Capital One Cup

Branislav Ivanovic kept his head as Chelsea edged a frenetic, ill-tempered clash with Liverpool to advance to the Capital One Cup final.

An Ivanovic header in the fourth minute of extra-time proved the difference as Chelsea responded from the humiliating FA Cup defeat to League One Bradford to advance to a first final of Jose Mourinho’s second spell as boss.

A 1-1 first-leg draw at Anfield meant it was all down to the Stamford Bridge clash and the 1-0 victory for Mourinho means he has now won four of his five contests with Brendan Rodgers, once his protege and now a bitter rival.

The managers confronted each other on the touchline as a tempestuous contest featuring nine bookings spilled into the technical area.

A comical moment followed as Liverpool assistant boss Colin Pascoe offered the Portuguese his glasses. Mourinho was not amused.

The Blues boss spent much of the night fuming, but it was Rodgers who had reason to feel most aggrieved early on as Diego Costa should have been sent off for stamping on Emre Can’s ankle.

Costa should then have had a penalty when tripped by Martin Skrtel, but referee Michael Oliver waved away appeals, much to the astonishment and anger of Mourinho.

Twice Liverpool spurned chances to take the lead as Thibaut Courtois saved well from Alberto Moreno and then Philippe Coutinho, while Simon Mignolet twice denied Costa at the other end.

Mourinho raged at Oliver when Jordan Henderson avoided a second booking for handball and his displeasure with the officials continued into extra-time as he missed Ivanovic’s header while talking to fourth official Phil Dowd.

With Frank Lampard’s Manchester City visiting Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Saturday, the additional half hour was less than welcome, but Chelsea showed a grit and determination lacking against Bradford to prevail.

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FA Cup: Liverpool 0-0 Bolton

Bolton earn FA Cup replay with goalless draw at Liverpool

Liverpool’s avoided an FA Cup upset at home to Bolton but even on a day of shocks it was not much of an achievement after a toothless display against Championship opponents Bolton.

There was a distinct absence of the vigour and verve of their exhilarating second-half performance against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup in midweek as Neil Lennon succeeded where Jose Mourinho had failed in keeping a clean sheet at Anfield.

The visitors defended resolutely, if sometimes illegally, to earn a replay after Liverpool failed to break them down.

There was no cup fairytale for Emile Heskey on his return to his former club as part of a combined 73-year-old strikeforce with Eidur Gudjohnsen as he was replaced just after half-time – but the consolation is he gets another go back at the Macron Stadium, where there will be a greater chance of an upset.

After the surprise results posted by lower league opposition against the Premier League’s finest earlier in the day Liverpool could have been forgiven for being cautious.

However, inviting the opposition onto them in the first 10 minutes, which included one almighty penalty area scramble at a corner, was not the ideal way to settle the nerves.

Gradually they established some control with Jordan Henderson, deputising for the captain Steven Gerrard who was omitted from the squad entirely with Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge to come, taking charge in central areas with a dipping left-footed volley palmed away by Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan.

The growing relationship between Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling again looked Liverpool’s most profitable avenue but too often the final pass could not get through or, if it did, neither appeared too keen on shooting.

Finding themselves having to cope with runners from all directions, Wanderers’ Matt Mills and Josh Vela were both booked for attempted rugby tackles on Sterling and Joe Allen, making his first appearance since the loss to Manchester United in mid-December – Liverpool’s only defeat in the last 16 matches.

Bolton’s best chance came from Dean Moxey’s long-range shot which spun just wide, although Simon Mignolet chesting down the ball outside his area and almost getting caught in possession at the end of the first half produced an audible sharp intake of breath around Anfield.

Within five minutes of the restart Henderson’s diagonal ball picked out Lazar Markovic, on for the ineffectual Jose Enrique, who passed Mills only to go down just outside the area.

Inexplicably referee Kevin Friend decided the already-cautioned Bolton captain had not committed a foul nor had the Serbia international dived – although television replays suggested the former.

Bogdan judged his block far better when Sterling raced onto a through-ball from Coutinho, who then saw a low drive well saved by Bogdan – only for Javier Manquillo to snatch at the rebound and drag his shot wide.

Bolton knew they would not get many chances but they would have wanted them to fall to Gudjohnsen and a striker of his experience had to do better than ballooning over Vela’s cross from 10 yards out.

Rodgers’s last throw of the dice was to send on Lucas Leiva and Fabio Borini for Allen and the disappointing Javier Manquillo – and virtually Borini’s first touch saw his shot denied by Bogdan.

Another former Liverpool player Jay Spearing, on as a substitute, could have gifted his old club a penalty after seeming to push Henderson as he charged through on goal but Friend saw no foul.

A header wide from Borini and Lucas’s long-range effort were Liverpool’s last chances as Bolton held on as their fans celebrated like it was a victory and in the directors’ box chairman Phil Gartside punched the air.

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League Cup: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Liverpool and Chelsea all square after Capital One Cup semi-final first leg

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho still has not won a semifinal against Liverpool after Raheem Sterling’s flash of brilliance earned the Reds a deserved 1-1 draw in the opening leg of their Capital One Cup clash.

During his first spell in charge, the Stamford Bridge boss came off second best in last-four clashes against the Merseysiders in the Champions League, twice, and FA Cup.

The League Cup can now be added to that after Eden Hazard’s 18th-minute penalty was cancelled out by the England international on the hour.

It will not matter to the Portuguese manager, however, as he will be confident they can get the job done in next week’s second leg.

Yet Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers, formerly a member of Mourinho’s coaching staff, and his side will have gained great confidence from this performance.

They restricted the visitors, lining up with the Premier League’s leading scorer Diego Costa, to just one shot on target all game.

The downside was Liverpool created 19 chances, six on target, but could only come away with a draw.

Pre-match, Rodgers said he felt they could go to Stamford Bridge and win and that will now be required, by whatever means necessary, but the advantage remains with Chelsea.

Considering the history between the clubs there was plenty of simmering tension in the first half but it never transferred into real chances.

Just three shots on target were registered, with Chelsea’s solitary effort the penalty.

It came about through Emre Can’s naivety, which in some ways is understandable considering he was only thrust into the left-sided centre-back in a three-man defence on Boxing Day.

His first mistake was to allow Cesc Fabregas to skip past him far too easily to reach the byline, his second was to compound his error by trying to recover the situation by connecting with Hazard.

It may not have been the hardest of challenges but referee Mike Atkinson pointed to the spot and Hazard sent Simon Mignolet the wrong way.

It was familiar storyline, last seen back in April when Mourinho’s side derailed Liverpool’s title bid after capitalising on Steven Gerrard’s slip and then defending the life out of the game.

All the meaningful possession had been the hosts, with Philippe Coutinho showing he could add desire and influence to his talents with the ball.

The fleet-footed Brazilian left the experienced John Terry trailing in his wake with one shuffle and had a shot deflected over.

In between he pulled the strings in the zone 20 yards outside Chelsea’s penalty area, showing an improved relationship with central striker Sterling.

Gerrard’s dipping drive from 30 yards, only just tipped over by Thibaut Courtois, was their best chance although the last action of the half had an incensed Rodgers encroaching on to the pitch claiming a penalty after the ball appeared to hit the hand of Costa laid on the floor.

With a lead in the bag, Chelsea did exactly what Mourinho asked them to in terms of recovering their shape whenever they lost possession and then hitting on the counter-attack.

The Portuguese had planned exactly for this eventuality — you could almost say inevitability — by bringing Jon Obi Mikel in alongside regular midfield colossus Nemanja Matic.

When Rodgers talks about a box in midfield he is referring to it in an attacking sense. Mourinho employed his own box but this one 20 or 30 yards deeper.

Very rarely was there more than 15 yards between Chelsea’s midfield pair and central defenders Terry and Gary Cahill, shutting down the space Coutinho and Gerrard, in a more advanced role, wanted to work in.

The invention had to come from deeper and when Jordan Henderson slid a pass down the centre Sterling went past Matic before the Serbia international could react, raced past Cahill into the area and beat Courtois.

It was the first goal Chelsea’s mean defence had conceded in 341 minutes and all of a sudden the visitors were properly under the cosh.

This seemed to be the game the 22-year-old Coutinho came of age and his run set up Gerrard to hit the post with a placed left-footed shot before the Brazil international forced Courtois into a low save and Martin Skrtel headed over.

Chelsea’s goalkeeper was by far the busier and was at his best to save from Henderson and then react quickly to block Sterling’s rebound before palming away substitute Adam Lallana’s volley.

The Belgian’s performance may just prove to be the one that takes them to Wembley.

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Premiership: Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool

Fabio Borini on target as Liverpool see off struggling Aston Villa

Fabio Borini scored his first Liverpool goal in almost two years as they comfortably despatched Aston Villa 2-0 in the Premier League.

Rickie Lambert clinched victory as the Reds extended their unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions. Martin Skrtel also hit the post while Christian Benteke and Nathan Baker missed decent chances for the powderpuff hosts.

Villa’s goal misery continued and they have now gone eight hours and 42 minutes without scoring.

Paul Lambert’s side have won just twice in their last 18 league games and are just three points above the drop zone, while Liverpool sit sixth.

Steven Gerrard failed to recover from a hamstring injury with Raheem Sterling back after his planned winter break in Jamaica.

Fabian Delph made an immediate return for Villa after suspension, replacing Joe Cole, and Nathan Baker came in for the suspended Ciaran Clark.

Any planned protest from Villa fans – boycotting the first eight minutes to signify eight years under chairman Randy Lerner – flopped with few taking part.

They missed little, though, aside from Alan Hutton’s fine tackle to thwart the lurking Borini and Benteke heading at Simon Mignolet.

Alberto Moreno did beat Brad Guzan – with a fine low shot in the 17th minute – but his celebrations were pulled back after he was correctly ruled offside.

Liverpool were comfortable, patient and probing as they waited for a chance – and their persistence was rewarded on 24 minutes when Borini netted his first goal for the club since April 2013.

Jordan Henderson was allowed time to cross and, after pulling away from Jores Okore, Borini volleyed in at the far post.

Sterling should have made it 2-0 eight minutes before the break but blew a golden chance when Lucas’ header put him clean through and he could only chip weakly at Guzan.

Villa offered little going forward although the previously anonymous Tom Cleverley fired over after Ashley Westwood’s pass.

It was a rare chance and the hosts were fortunate not to be further behind five minutes into the second half.

They relied on Guzan as the keeper turned Skrtel’s header onto the post before he parried Henderson’s fierce drive.

Carles Gil was handed his debut after signing from Valencia on the hour with Villa struggling for ideas and they almost levelled a minute later when Mignolet parried Benteke’s 10-yard volley.

Borini blasted over two minutes later but Liverpool were being pinned back by a revitalised Villa as Baker headed over and then produced an air shot from just six yards.

But the hosts were left to rue the misses when Lambert sealed Liverpool’s victory with 11 minutes left.

Sterling received the ball on the edge of the box and he found Lambert, whose fine touch took him away from Carlos Sanchez before he drilled into the corner.

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