Liverpool, Chelsea level at 1-1 after League Cup semifinal first leg
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Raheem Sterling's exquisite solo goal earned Liverpool a 1-1 draw against Chelsea in the first leg of their English League Cup semifinal on Tuesday.
Sterling canceled out Eden Hazard's first-half penalty when he picked up the ball 40 meters from goal, turned and sped away from Chelsea's defense before applying a low finish in the 59th minute.
Chelsea relied on a string of fine second-half saves from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to hold onto a draw, which gives the Premier League leaders a slight advantage heading back to Stamford Bridge for next week's second leg.
Hazard won and converted a penalty in the 18th minute in one of the few sights on goal Chelsea created in a defensive display at Anfield.
Liverpool is now unbeaten in nine games in all competitions and manager Brendan Rodgers has managed to restore the identity of a team that was well below par in the opening months of the season.
This encouraging performance, in which the Reds pinned Chelsea back for most of the game, revived memories of last season when they came so close to winning the Premier League.
The League Cup is one of four trophies Chelsea is chasing this season and probably the lowest of manager Jose Mourinho's priorities. But the Londoners fielded their strongest possible lineup after playing weakened teams earlier in the competition.
They were happy to defend in numbers and attempt to play on the counter-attack, with their goal the only shot Chelsea had in the first half. It only had two shots all game.
Emre Can, a midfielder filling in at center back, was beaten by Chelsea playmaker Cesc Fabregas down Liverpool's right flank and then compounded his error by lunging at Hazard after the ball had been played inside. The Belgium winger picked himself up to send goalkeeper Simon Mignolet the wrong way from the spot for 1-0.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, seeking one last appearance at Wembley Stadium before his summer move to Los Angeles Galaxy, forced a flying save from Courtois with a dipping, 30-meter shot but the hosts' stylish approach play didn't have an end product in the first half.
Sterling changed that with a wonderful individual goal in the 59th. Given room to turn in the middle of Chelsea's half, the England forward accelerated away from holding midfielder Nemanja Matic, drifted past leaden-footed Gary Cahill and slipped a left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
Chelsea lost its composure in the second half and Liverpool's pressing forced mistakes from the visitors. Gerrard curled a left-footed shot against the post and the lively Philippe Coutinho drew a parried save out of Courtois, who also denied Jordan Henderson and Sterling.
Courtois' best stop was saved for substitute Adam Lallana, the Belgium goalkeeper diving to his right to palm away a fierce long-range shot.
Tottenham plays third-tier Sheffield United in the other semifinal, with the first leg on Wednesday.