Carabao Cup exit creates unwanted history but perspective won't escape Jurgen Klopp's Reds
By James Pearce
When Jurgen Klopp spoke about wanting to write history this season, this wasn't what he had in mind.
For the first time, Liverpool have crashed out of the League Cup at the first hurdle in successive campaigns.
There will be no Wembley trip come February. That painful wait for silverware will extend at least until May.
The feelgood factor generated by a record-breaking seven straight wins at the start of the campaign was dented somewhat as Chelsea celebrated a late smash-and-grab raid at Anfield.
Frustration and anger was writ large on Klopp's face as he marched on to the field after the final whistle. Xherdan Shaqiri, who was a creative force throughout, got a very public lecture about some of his decision making.
Referee Kevin Friend did Liverpool no favours with some bewildering decisions but in truth the Reds only had themselves to blame for another early exit. A much changed line up overcame a slow start to dominate proceedings but squandered some glorious chances.
Daniel Sturridge, who was guilty of a nightmare miss, finally made the pressure tell with his third goal of the season which equals his meagre tally for 2017/18.
However, Emerson equalised before a piece of individual brilliance from substitute Eden Hazard – coupled with some shoddy defending – settled the tie.
Losing to Chelsea always hurts, no matter what the prize at stake, and the Londoners still haven't been beaten in L4 since 2012.
But a sense of perspective is important. This was always fourth on Liverpool's list of priorities. As serious contenders for the Premier League title and the Champions League crown they have bigger fish to fry.
And now they need to turn a negative into a positive by taking advantage of the fact they only have two competitions to focus on until January.
Certainly, no harm should be done to morale as Klopp plots an instant revenge mission down at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night. That contest certainly means more than this one.
This was Liverpool without Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Gini Wijnaldum and it showed. Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah only made cameos late on.
Klopp's team selection wasn't a case of disrespecting the League Cup, it was merely common sense amidst such a gruelling run of fixtures.
Alberto Moreno was a weak link that Chelsea exploited but most of those on the fringes who stepped up performed well.
Fabinho grew into the contest and fellow new boy Naby Keita also caught the eye, while no blame could be attached to Simon Mignolet, who pulled off some smart saves.
Joel Matip, Sadio Mane and Shaqiri were the only players retained from Saturday's league win over Southampton as Klopp utilised the depth of his squad.
As well as a full debut for Fabinho, there were first starts of the season for Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Moreno.
With so many players short of game time, the danger was always going to be that Liverpool looked rusty and disjointed and so it proved early on.
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri also made eight changes but the Londoners settled much quicker. They were given a helping hand by the Reds' failure to press the ball with their usual urgency.
Fabinho showed his qualities with a couple of fine challenges to dispossess Victor Moses and then Mateo Kovacic. But there wasn't enough spark and guile around the Brazilian, while defensively Liverpool looked suspect at times.
Mignolet hadn't played since January but Liverpool were indebted to his alertness as he kept them on level terms.
Cesc Fabregas' lofted pass enabled Alvaro Morata to get in behind Lovren. The Spanish striker tried to lift it over Mignolet but the keeper got his finger tips to it and Morata couldn't tuck away the follow up from a tight angle.
How the hosts missed the leadership and ice-cool persona of Virgil van Dijk as runners weren't tracked. Morata latched on to Willian's pass and forced another smart save from Mignolet at his near post.
In the closing stages of the first half Liverpool belatedly came to life. They started hunting in packs to win possession back and knocked Chelsea out of their stride.
Two handball shouts against Fabregas were waved away, while Friend wasn't interested when Keita tumbled over Gary Cahill's outstretched leg.
Keita led the charge and he unleashed a fierce strike after being released by Sturridge. Willy Caballero ensured the Guinean's wait for a first Liverpool goal goes on with a fine sprawling save.
Suddenly, Liverpool were playing with fluency and it was Sarri's men on the back foot. Shaqiri picked out Mane but his header was kept out by the keeper.
Sturridge had linked play intelligently but his night took a turn for the worse inside 30 seconds of the second half.
Andreas Christensen's woeful backpass put one on a plate for him. After going around Caballero, Sturridge had time to roll the ball into the empty net but, inexplicably, he rolled it wide. Klopp could scarcely believe his eyes on the touchline.
The second half was increasingly one-way traffic with Liverpool growing in confidence.
Ross Barkley's wayward header inadvertently put Mane through but Caballero spared his blushes.
Lovren also went close with a header with Shaqiri a real handful with his movement and eye for a pass.
The breakthrough Liverpool deserved finally arrived just before the hour mark. It was testament to the hosts' hunger as Keita and James Milner forced Chelsea to cough up possession deep inside their own half. Mane fed Keita, whose effort stung Caballero's palms.
The rebound dropped to Sturridge, who this time made no mistake with an acrobatic volley. It was his ninth goal in nine League Cup appearances for the Reds.
Jordan Henderson and Firmino replaced Milner and Mane as Klopp sought fresh legs to see the game out.
But with 11 minutes to go Chelsea restored parity. It came from a disputed free-kick which Klopp was rightly raging about.
Barkley's header was brilliantly kept out by Mignolet but Emerson reacted quickest to tuck away the rebound. Barkley looked marginally offside but VAR allowed the goal to stand.
Sturridge was inches away from being the hero as his curler rattled the bar. Instead it was Hazard who delivered the late twist in the tale.
The classy Belgian finished emphatically after slaloming into space but Keita and Moreno both allowed him to get away from them far too easily.
The supporting cast will have to wait some time for another chance. The big guns will be tasked with ensuring this is just a blip.
Liverpool : Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Fabinho (Salah 87), Milner (Henderson 60), Keita, Shaqiri, Mane (Firmino 70), Sturridge.
Not used : Grabara, Gomez, Solanke, Jones.
Chelsea : Caballero, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Christensen (Luiz 73), Emerson, Barkley, Fabregas, Kovacic (Kante 64), Mose, Morata, Willian (Hazard 56).
Not used : Bulka, Jorginho, Hudson-Odoi, Zappacosta
Referee : Kevin Friend
Goals : Sturridge 59, Emerson 79, Hazard 85.
Bookings : Milner, Matip, Fabinho, Keita, Henderson, Kovacic, Moses, Morata.
Man of the match : Xherdan Shaqiri. Caused Chelsea plenty of problems.
Copyright – The Liverpool Echo