No shame in this. No shame in a cup exit at the semi final stage. In the end they just had a little bit more than us. In the end they did the only thing that we didn’t. They did that thing where you put the ball in the back of the net.
For one hundred and thirty five minutes we were the better team. Far and away the better team. Through the Anfield first leg, which we could and should have won. Through the first half at Stamford Bridge. The better team. By some distance. Chelsea couldn’t live with us. The one thing that we didn’t do was confirm our superiority with goals.
The first leg could/should have seen a 3-1 Liverpool victory; Gerrard hitting the post, Lallana’s shot saved by the imperious Courtois. The moment that made the difference last night was Zouma recovering from his own mistake to catch up with Sterling’s run before he could either shoot or square to the onrushing Gerrard.
That moment would have won the match. Chelsea never looked like scoring - until, obviously, they did. They didn’t need to score. The penalty at Anfield would have been enough to see them through. We needed to score. Without a striker on the pitch, we needed to score. Story of the season. The killer instinct doesn’t live in our midfield. Goals are hard to come by. And - obviously - goals win games.
We ended the game with two strikers on the pitch; Balotelli, mysteriously brought back from exile after Brendan had spent the week telling everybody how poor he was, and Lambert. Lambert arrived with the team 1-0 down. That one goal? Balotelli gives the ball away, Lucas fouls his man to retrieve it, the ensuing free kick is headed in by Ivanovic who loses his marker far too easily. His marker? Mario Balotelli.
It’s not Mario’s fault that we lost though. It may not be anybody’s fault that we lost. It may just be that we ran out of steam, ran out of legs, ran out of inspiration from the beginning of the second half onwards. We fought. We never stopped moving, never stopped probing, never gave up. In a breathless, frantic cup tie we gave as good as Chelsea but you could sense them growing stronger, could see the clinical side of them revealing itself. It didn’t change what we needed to do though. Don’t change what we failed to do. One goal. One goal would do it. Take our chance with penalties from there if need be.
I can understand the substitutions. I can’t understand the substitutions but I can understand the substitutions, if you know what I mean. You need a goal? Put on the two guys from the bench who were bought to score goals. The other way of looking at it is this; when we needed the scalpel that is Adam Lallana we put on two sledgehammers instead. Lambert had a shot. Long distance. Hit and hope. In the last minute. One shot. One more than Mario. In fairness, it was one of Mario’s better showings in a red shirt; he ran round, flicked the ball a bit, powered through defenders. And didn’t achieve anything. He doesn’t look like he ever will.
We played well. Played as well as Chelsea. Defended well - other than the set piece. Were every inch the equal of the team who seem to be running away with the league. There were so many positives to take from this game, from this tie, from both legs. So many positives. But the one thing we didn’t do is put the ball in the back of the net.
Sturridge on Saturday. Let’s see if we can keep him fit for the next four months and hope it’s exactly the difference we’re looking for.