Liverpool crashed out of the Capital One Cup competition last night after an engaging match was decided by Branislav Ivanovic’s extra time header. It was a heated match that often just looked like a ‘drunken scuffle’, as written by The Guardian’s Barney Ronay. The refereeing was abysmal, and as much as both sets of fans would like to argue, it was bad for both sides. Diego Costa’s stamps on Emre Can and Martin Skrtel went unnoticed but he should have also had a penalty as Skrtel tripped him in the box. Moreover, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva were also lucky to be on the pitch. Hate and rivalry between the two sides was evident as Jose Mourinho apparently had a little shove at Rodgers during the match and also walked up to the Liverpool benches taunting the support staff and asking them whether they could see the fouls being committed on the Chelsea players. This prompted Brendan Rodgers’ assistant, Colin Pascoe, to offer an angry Mourinho his glasses. Post match, victorious Mourinho shifted the focus away from Costa’s stamps and in his trademark way, took a dig at a Sky Pundit believed to be Jamie Redknapp saying he has a campaign against Chelsea and Costa.

A lot happened over the 120 minutes of play and 60 minutes afterwards. It was an exciting game of football between two equals who asked plenty of questions from each other. Eventually the “big-match temperament” that is instilled in Chelsea Football Club in present times swung the game in their favour as it was the Premier League leaders that progress to the finals as they found the way, and Liverpool could not. Here are three things we learnt from the Reds’ performance in the game.

Top 4 challenge is on

Liverpool’s performance in the two legs of the semi final against the league leaders was worthy of a lot of praise and admiration. A lot of rival fans groan about why the loss has to be glorified, but you can’t help but praise the grit and determination the Reds played with, in a game that when announced, look like a comfortable Chelsea win all the way.

After the highs of last season it has been a very tough campaign for the Reds this season. There were four consecutive losses at one point of time this season and Brendan Rodgers’ head was on the line. But the Northern Irishman has since then found a solution to the problems and his young team has done very well over the last one month.

After putting up praise worthy performances in the two legs, it was a bitter pill to swallow as the Blues emerged victorious from the game. But it definitely wasn’t the case of Chelsea not ‘deserving’ the win (let’s admit, as much as we like to use the term in sport, it is basically redundant). The home side showed their experience and just why they have been part of the English and European elite in the past decade or so. Eden Hazard’s dancing feet, Diego Costa’s sheer beastly nature and Willian’s contribution both in attack and defence ‘deserved’ the win as much as any player in red.

Liverpool lacked a clinical presence and the absence of a natural goalscorer is hurting them. It would be very interesting to see how much difference the return of Daniel Sturridge makes to the side in terms of results.

But Liverpool would have a lot to take away from the game for the near and distant  future. They have to target the fourth place in the league and ensure they give Manchester United, Arsenal, West Ham and Southampton worthy competition and take the chase right till the end of the season. The young Reds would also take the experience from this game and it will pay dividends in the future. It goes without saying that these are just two games and the Reds would have to produce these sort of performance consistently.

Liverpool’s defence looks nothing like itself, and its a good thing.

Liverpool’s defensive performances over the last few weeks deserve so much credit because it has been so woeful over the last one and a half years. Last season, the Reds were regularly outscoring their opponents so it didn’t attract as much attention. This time out, they lost that luxury so attention naturally went in that direction. But since Rodgers shifted the formation to a 3-4-2-1 and instilled Emre Can, Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva into the starting line-up, things have drastically changed for the better. The young Emre Can has proved to be such a brilliant asset to the team. The German has instilled composure at the back. Sakho’s inclusion was forced once Lovren got injured, and the Frenchman has since proved what Rodgers and Liverpool were missing out on as they were busy ignoring him. Unfortunately for the Reds, the former PSG man limped off in the second half. It was a big blow for the side as the quick use of the ball went away with Glen Johnson being on his less comfortable side and taking longer to release the ball and initiate transitions. Liverpool fans would hope that Sakho’s injury is nothing serious because the thought of either one of Lovren or Johnson coming into the well set back-line would send shivers down their spines.

Liverpool still have to improve as it was another set-piece that gave away the goal. The marking for that goal was bizarre as Ivanovic pretty much buried a free header (not taking away anything from the brilliant delivery and conversion. Especially since Jordan Henderson wasted a wonderful chance in the extra time as his headed effort went past the goal)

Simon Mignolet’s most convincing performance for Liverpool.

The Liverpool goalkeeper has got severe criticism this season, and for good reason. His performances early on in the season have been nothing short of woeful. He has looked clumsy and devoid of confidence. It doesn’t help when your defenders are not doing a good job and Mignolet has suffered more because of that. However, as mentioned before, Liverpool’s defence has done a great job recently and Mignolet’s performances have also gone up as a result of this along with him individually getting much better. He looks more commanding in the box, he comes out regularly and tries to do a sweeper keeper job (even though he still has a far way to go in that department), he punches the ball with more authority. There were two instances yesterday where Chelsea looked certain to be striking the back of the net. But Mignolet rose to the occasion and in the first instance, used his trailing leg to stop Costa’s sure-shot effort and in the second one, made a brilliant challenge on the Chelsea striker to stop an attempt.

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