It was a game that had everything. In an enthralling encounter Chelsea was the team celebrating a fifth UEFA Champions League semi-final appearance in the last six seasons. But at halftime Liverpool fans had to be dreaming of an improbable comeback as they jumped to a 2-0 lead inside the first 30 minutes.
The 3-1 first-leg deficit was a formidable barrier for the Anfield club to overcome but they set about it with gusto and Fábio Aurélio’s free-kick and Xabi Alonso’s penalty had the scores level. However, Chelsea roared back with second-half goals from Didier Drogba, Alex and Frank Lampard. Lucas, with a deflected shot, and a Dirk Kuyt header left the home supporters fearing the worst but Lampard scored again with a minute remaining to ensure Chelsea a semi-final meeting with FC Barcelona.
With Steven Gerrard ruled out with a groin injury, Liverpool’s task looked even more difficult. While their desire was all too apparent, the early passing lacked sufficient sharpness, even if they created a good chance in the 13th minute that Fernando Torres would normally have put away. It was skilfully created by Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun but having sidestepped Alex’s challenge, Torres was unable to keep his shot down.
Lampard sent a free-kick fizzing wide as Chelsea threatened for the first time. Yet within five minutes their night began to take a turn for the worst as Liverpool were awarded a free-kick out on the right following a push by Lampard on Torres. Aurélio stood over the ball as players on both teams jostled for position. The Brazilian then deceived everyone by arrowing his delivery inside Petr Čech’s left-hand post, leaving the Chelsea goalkeeper embarrassed. This was not the only mistake that Cech, who recent form has to have Chelsea fans worried.
It was game on once more and Branislav Ivanović was forced to intervene when Torres almost freed Benayoun. Liverpool had their tails up and they soon scored again. Another Aurélio free-kick was vigorously contested with the referee spotting a tug by Ivanović on Alonso, who calmly slotted home the spot-kick. Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink was seething on the touchline and in a bid to put new life in his team he replaced Salomon Kalou with Nicolas Anelka. It was a soft penalty, but you cannot wrestle a player to the ground like that.
Liverpool resumed their attack after the restart and Čech was left exposed as he was beaten by Lucas to a through ball to the left of goal. The Argentinian laid the ball off to Aurélio but this time he could not produce a quality delivery. Anelka had shown little so far but a positive raid down the right led to Chelsea regaining the aggregate lead. A dangerous ball played under pressure was helped on by Drogba close to the byline and Pepe Reina was unable to keep it out at his near post.
Six minutes later Liverpool’s lead on the night was wiped out as Alex fired in a free-kick with immense power, and Chelsea seemed to have put the issue beyond doubt in the 76h minute when Drogba surged away and Reina could not do enough to keep out Lampard’s side-footed shot. Eleven minutes from time Lucas’s drive diverted in off Michael Essien and then Kuyt was allowed room to head in Albert Riera’s cross. One more goal and Liverpool would be through but instead that went to Chelsea and the inspirational Lampard, the home side’s joy tempered only by a second-half booking for Ashley Cole, meaning he will be suspended for the first leg at Barcelona on 28 April.
It should be a great semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona. Chelsea’s defense looks very weak at the moment and they might have to outscore Barcelona if they want to reach the Champions League semi-final for the second straight year.