Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1
The first instalment of Chelsea's double-header with Liverpool may lack the significance of the Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday but the value of victory will not be lost on Maurizio Sarri. His team halted Liverpool's winning run with a devastating late flourish at Anfield, Eden Hazard delivering a place in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup in superb style.
Hazard struck an 85th-minute winner for the visitors after beating four Liverpool players before finding the far corner of Simon Mignolet’s goal. Jürgen Klopp’s changed team were not guilty of failing to seize their opportunities. They simply lacked the defensive authority that Virgil van Dijk and Alisson bring to the team and paid a heavy price.
Klopp and Sarri both made eight changes from the teams that beat Southampton and drew with West Ham United at the weekend respectively. Their impending date in the Premier League inevitably influenced the selections although it reflected the depth of the Liverpool and Chelsea squads that the starting line-ups were heavy with Premier League and international experience. Dejan Lovren returned from injury to make his first appearance since the World Cup final while Gary Cahill was handed the Chelsea captaincy on his first start of a frustrating season so far for the former England international.
The visitors made a confident start with Ross Barkley prominent on his return to Merseyside. The former Everton midfielder played with more composure than he often showed in the heat of a local derby at Anfield and, with Willian and Victor Moses willing outlets on the flanks, Liverpool's rejigged defence was put under concerted pressure in the first half.
Simon Mignolet was kept busy on his first start since the FA Cup defeat by West Bromwich Albion in January with a header from Andreas Christensen, a low drive from Willian and a near-post effort by Alvaro Morata helping him to shake off any rustiness. Chelsea's best opening of the half fell to Morata when picked out by a delightful ball over the top of the Liverpool defence by Cesc Fábregas. The Spain striker's attempted chip was foiled by the fingertips of Mignolet. From the rebound, a difficult one admittedly, Morata hooked the ball back across goal but wide of the far post with Moses unable to connect.
Liverpool were slow to find their rhythm by comparison but, once Sadio Mané, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri began to exploit gaps behind Chelsea's midfield, the hosts carried the greater threat as half-time approached. Optimistic penalty appeals against Fàbregas for handball, twice, and Cahill for a challenge on Keita did not convince the referee Kevin Friend – or VAR for that matter – but Klopp's side almost opened the scoring from open play. Keita forced Willy Caballero into a flying save with a powerful drive when released down the left by Daniel Sturridge. Chelsea's stand-in goalkeeper also saved well from Mané's downward header after the Senegal international was set up by Shaqiri's inviting cross from the right.
Klopp gave Fabinho his first start since arriving for £43.7m from Monaco in the summer and the Brazilian midfielder acquitted himself well, although he encountered an impressive opponent in Mateo Kovacic. The on-loan Real Madrid midfielder produced a stylish display but his team almost imploded at the start of the second half as they gifted Liverpool two clear openings in rapid succession. Christensen made the first serious error within a minute of the restart when he undercooked an attempted back-pass to Caballero. Sturridge seized on the opportunity and rounded the keeper, who managed to get a hand on the ball but not enough power to push it clear. The goal was gaping but Sturridge, perhaps unaware he still had time and space, skewed a first-time shot badly wide.
Chelsea’s second mistake came from Barkley, who almost let in Mane with a careless header towards his own goal. Mane was goal-side of Christensen and able to shoot before the central defender could intervene but, once again, Caballero denied him with an outstretched leg.
Pressure was mounting on the Chelsea goal, however, and the introduction of Eden Hazard for Willian could not alleviate it. The breakthrough was in keeping with the visitors’ start to the second half. Fàbregas and César Azpilicueta both failed to clear their lines on the edge of the penalty area and the right-back gifted possession to Mané with an aimless pass. Mané released Keita on the angle of the box and though Caballero parried the midfielder’s shot the ball dropped invitingly for the unmarked Sturridge. It was not a simple chance but the striker made it appear so, leaping into the air before sweeping a left-footed volley into an unguarded net.
The goal was Sturridge's ninth in his past nine League Cup outings but Chelsea struck back late on. Sarri's side had barely tested Mignolet in the second half but took full advantage of a dangerous free-kick awarded for a foul by Keita on Moses. Hazard's delivery was met by a glancing header from Barkley and, though Mignolet saved well, Emerson beat substitute Roberto Firmino to the rebound to equalise from two yards out.
Chelsea's equaliser was allowed to stand following a VAR review that showed Morata and Azpilicueta in an offside position but not directly involved in the goal. There was no questioning the validity or brilliance of their winner. Five minutes remained when Hazard took possession in central midfield. He spun away from Jordan Henderson and Fabinho before finding Azpilicueta on the right wing. Reclaiming the ball, the Belgium playmaker then beat Keita and twisted Alberto Moreno inside and out before driving an angled shot beyond Mignolet into the far corner. – Guardian service
Wednesday's League Cup results
Arsenal 3 Brentford 1
Nottingham Forest 3 Stoke City 2
West Ham United 8 Macclesfield Town 0
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Watford 2 (Tottenham won 4-2 on penalties)