Chelsea came from behind on Merseyside to progress in the Carabao Cup as substitute Eden Hazard fired an unbelievable winner for the Blues.
We had fallen behind early in the second half when Daniel Sturridge volleyed the Reds in front, but Emerson Palmieri poked home what had looked an unlikely equaliser just over 10 minutes from time before Hazard, on from the bench, stole the show with a winning goal of sublime quality. The Belgian, who until that point had been quiet, burst past two Liverpool defenders before arrowing an unstoppable shot into the far corner of the net.
It means we go into Saturday evening’s fourth-round draw, but also approach the weekend with the upper hand against Jurgen Klopp’s side, with them due to visit Stamford Bridge in the Premier League.
Perhaps with that game in mind, Maurizio Sarri opted to make eight changes from Sunday’s side which drew 0-0 at West Ham, offering a starting brief for captain Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, with Alvaro Morata in attack. Hazard, N’Golo Kante and David Luiz would all see action from the bench.
Klopp rotated similarly with only James Milner, Naby Keita and Sadio Mane regular starters for the Reds so far this season. Former Blue Sturridge was the central striker.
The balance of early play was in Chelsea’s favour, Victor Moses
Just before the 20-minute mark, Morata went close twice in two minutes. First, he latched onto an inch-perfect Fabregas pass before seeing his initial shot saved and putting the follow-up across the face of goal, and then after being slipped in by Willian, again forcing a decent save from the goalkeeper
Cahill was in the thick of the action not long later when Keita burst into the Blues’ box, going down under the defender’s challenge. All eyes were on referee Kevin Friend, with contact between the two suggesting a penalty.
Keita was becoming increasingly influential, and his long-range drive looked like opening the scoring 10 minutes before the break, only for Caballero to turn the ball behind at full stretch. It was the most Liverpool had threatened up to that point, but just a couple of minutes later Mane should have put the home side ahead.
Xherdan Shaqiri had time to pick out the Senegalese in space, but he misjudged his header to give Caballero a reasonably comfortable save and ensure the game was goalless at half-time.
Within 30 seconds of the restart, we should have been behind. Christensen under-hit his backpass to present Sturridge a one-on-one, and although Caballero held him up, the forward still had an open goal, which he screwed wide on his weaker right foot. It was a lucky let-off.
You would think we would not be so fortunate again, but just seven minutes later, Barkley misjudged a header and put Mane in, this time Caballero reacting well to save with his foot. From the resulting corner, Dejan Lovren headed onto the roof of the net.
Pressure was building on the Chelsea backline, with Mane having another effort snuffed out and Mateo Kovacic booked after halting a Liverpool attack early in the second period.
The home side’s breakthrough came just before the hour, and once again, the chance arose through avoidable circumstances. We failed to clear the ball in our own right-back position, allowing Mane to play in Keita, and though Caballero pushed out his initial effort, it fell to Sturridge who had sufficient time and space to acrobatically volley home the rebound.
Sarri had just before that introduced Hazard in a bid to wrestle back some control of the contest, but the Belgian was finding it difficult to make an impact, even with the addition of Kante behind him in midfield 10 minutes later.
It was difficult to see where the equaliser may come, but inevitably given his recent form, Hazard would play his part.
Moses was fouled wide on the right by Keita, and with Willian no longer on the field, Hazard assumed free-kick responsibilities, whipping a ball into the danger area where Barkley crashed a powerful header towards goal. Mignolet could only parry it and quickest on the spot to follow in was Emerson, who poked home his first Chelsea goal.
Liverpool almost regained the lead when Sturridge bent his shot against the crossbar, but then came the game’s moment of brilliance to make the difference.
Hazard picked the ball up on the right and beat Loveren and Moreno, the latter twice, before bursting into the area and unleashing a fierce drive into the far corner. He is simply unstoppable when in that kind of mood, which he has been so many times this season already.
Two minutes from time he was in that mood again, bursting past another two Liverpool challenges before being pulled down on the edge of the box. They could not cope and it was no surprise to see Jordan Henderson booked for hauling him down before the final whistle.
Liverpool pressed for an equaliser during five minutes of added time, but the Blues held out to progress and maintain Sarri’s unbeaten start in charge.
We entertain Liverpool at the Bridge at 5.30pm on Saturday. Just how big a message is this result ahead of that game?
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Moreno; Fabinho (Salah 87), Milner (c) (Henderson 60), Keita; Shaqiri, Sturridge, Mane (Firmino 70).
Unused subs Grabara, Gomez, Jones, Solanke.
Goals Sturridge 59
Booked Lovren 26, Fabinho 56, Keita 78, Henderson 90
Chelsea (4-3-3): Caballero; Azpilicueta, Christensen (David Luiz 73), Cahill (c), Emerson; Barkley, Fabregas, Kovacic (Kante 64); Moses, Morata, Willian (Hazard 56).
Unused subs Bulka, Zappacosta, Jorginho, Hudson-Odoi.
Goals Emerson 79, Hazard 85
Booked Kovacic 50, Morata 90+5
Referee Kevin Friend