With a 3-1 deficit to make up in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final second-leg tie with Chelsea, Liverpool threatened a memorable comeback before the Blues progressed on aggregate.
Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4 (7-5 agg)
As if things were not hard enough for Liverpool already, Steven Gerrard was ruled out of the return trip to Stamford Bridge with a groin injury. But Rafa Benitez’s men had forgotten all about their talismanic midfielder when Fabio Aurelio caught Petr Cech out at his near post and Xabi Alonso crashed home a penalty.
At the interval Liverpool had wiped out the two-goal deficit and a famous European comeback was on the cards until Pepe Reina horribly touched in Didier Drogba’s effort and Alex levelled the scores in a five-minute spell in the second half to essentially end Liverpool’s hopes of a semi-final appearance.
Chelsea appeared to have put the issue beyond doubt in the 76th minute when Drogba surged away and Reina could not do enough to keep out Lampard’s side-footed shot. But on 79 minutes Lucas’ drive diverted in off Michael Essien and then Dirk Kuyt (82) powerfully headed in Albert Riera’s cross.
Liverpool were one goal away from a semi-final date with Barcelona and only the Reds’ fans could be heard at the Bridge, but it was Lampard who shattered the visitors’ dream when he fired home off both posts with a minute to go to level the scores on the night.
With time ticking away the fragile Cech still managed to fumble a cross that David N’Gog drilled towards goal, forcing a superb headed clearance from Essien, but Chelsea had done enough it to reach the last four.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Alex, Carvalho, Ashley Cole, Kalou (Anelka 36), Ballack, Essien, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba (Di Santo 90).
Goals: Drogba 52, Alex 57, Lampard 76, 89.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa (Babel 85), Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Lucas, Mascherano (Riera 69), Alonso, Kuyt, Torres (Ngog 80), Benayoun.
Goals: Aurelio 19, Alonso 28 pen, Lucas 81, Kuyt 82.
What they said
Guus Hiddink was disappointed with Chelsea’s poor start despite their aggregate win.
“We were angry at half-time because we didn’t start as we planned and we know that playing against Liverpool, who are a good team tactically, that you can’t give them that much space. We dropped back too much, should have defended further up the pitch and cut out the spaces for them to attack. We lost too many duels in the first half. At half-time tactically and mentally we said ‘Hey guys, this is not the way to start the second half’. That’s why I like to work with this team, because of how they react – they know they can score.
“Top players have the same angry feelings as the coach. Sometimes you lose your temper but the players had the knowledge that the performance wasn’t OK. We played against a team who can play beautiful football, and if you give them too space you’re in trouble. I’ve been involved in some dramatic games like this one when players make a lot of errors. That’s why it was attractive, especially in the second half. You think you’re down, the team reacts and then you’re up. There are waves of being in the game and then out of it.”
Rafael Benítez was happy with Liverpool’s efforts but lamented Steven Gerrard’s omission due to injury.
“We showed character, quality, and have to be really proud of the players who’ve done a fantastic job. The fans will be very pleased with the team. We were on top of them in the beginning, so credit to all the players, especially Lucas in the middle who worked very hard. Thanks to them we were pushing, pushing and were very,very close. But when you play a good team like Chelsea you pay for your mistakes.
“We thought Steven Gerrard would be OK to play but in the end he felt something and couldn’t. I don’t know what Chelsea thought about him not playing but for us it was a credit to the other players for doing such a fantastic job. Clearly when you lose you have to be disappointed but to lose in this way we can be really proud with our heads up. We can think positively for the Premier League because we’ve showed we can score four goals at Stamford Bridge.