Cup competitions always pose a huge question mark, but following the surprising results at the weekend, the second leg of tomorrow’s League Cup semi-final has become even more unpredictable.
After dominating Chelsea in the first leg, Liverpool followed up that performance with a scoreless draw against Championship side Bolton Wanderers at Anfield, allowing the Trotters to secure themselves a lucrative replay. While the added strain of an additional fixture crammed into an already bursting schedule is a conversation better suited for another day, it’s a talk that the Blues wouldn’t mind having after they were dumped out of the competition by League One side Bradford City in front of their own fans.
That boss Jose Mourinho made wholesale changes to the team that secured themselves a draw on Merseyside earlier in the week is of little consequence; for a team of Chelsea’s stature — and the astronomical financial expenditure that comes along with it — being scalped by a team in the lower echelons of the Football League isn’t even bordering on acceptable.
While that may hint that the London side are there for the taking, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers took a far more pragmatic approach to suggestions that their wounded adversaries will be lacking in belief. As the Northern Irishman so poignantly pointed out, this will be a game that’s no only different from the first leg at Anfield, but it’ll be miles apart from what transpired at the weekend.
“Response” will certainly be the watch word tomorrow, but which side will be providing it will is where the contention lies — there’ll certainly be changes to the personnel of both. Whereas Rodgers will no doubt bring Martin Skrtel back into the fold after giving the Slovakian a rest against Bolton, his counterpart in Mourinho will almost certainly recall John Terry to the starting eleven after shipping four goals for the first time during his spells in the Chelsea hot-seat.
Steven Gerrard for Liverpool will be met with Cesc Fàbregas for the hosts as the tit-for-tat tweaks continue. Joe Allen, who made a long awaited return from injury at the weekend, should see his spot occupied by Lucas much in the same way that Mohamed Salah will be on the outside looking in when Willian is warming up pre-match. Thibaut Courtois, who foiled the Reds party in the first leg, will replace Petr Cech and will look to Diego Costa, left out of the side that lost to the Bantams, to do the business up front. After failing to find the net against Bolton, the calls for Daniel Sturridge, who only just resumed first team training today, to play some part have increased in volume, but Rodgers has stressed that the 25-year old won’t be risked unless he’s 100% ready to play.
Throwing him into the thick of things, even if only for a few minutes, could be a gamble worth taking though with a trip to Wembley beckoning. While we’ve found the net at least once in our last six trips to Chelsea, if the first leg taught us anything, it’s that goals are never a sure thing. After being held by a Championship ‘keeper at the weekend, the Blues aren’t the only ones that need to respond.
Last one out of Stamford Bridge, burn it to the ground.