By Steve Douglas ,AP
LIVERPOOL, England — Raheem Sterling found a way past formidable Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with an exquisite solo goal to earn Liverpool a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their English League Cup semifinal on Tuesday.
It needed something special to beat Courtois at Anfield and Sterling delivered in the 59th minute, picking up the ball 40 meters from goal, turning and speeding away from Chelsea’s defense before applying a low finish.
That canceled out an 18th-minute penalty won and converted by Eden Hazard in the only shot on goal Chelsea produced in a defensive performance that saw the Premier League leaders outplayed at times, especially in the second half.
��They are a top side but I’m not sure they’ve had a game like that this season,�� Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. ��I thought the performance was a benchmark. There is absolutely no doubt we can go to the second leg and get the performance we need.��
Chelsea will be relieved to come away on level terms and is the marginal favorite heading into the return match at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. After a slow start to the season, though, Liverpool has rediscovered its identity and intensity that almost took the team to the Premier League title last season. The Reds are unbeaten in nine games.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho grumbled about his side’s poor distribution but that was due to the pressure being applied by Liverpool, which is seeking to extend its record of eight titles in the League Cup.
The visitors had only two shots in a game played in light snowfall, one of which ended in the net when Hazard picked himself up after being fouled by makeshift defender Emre Can to send goalkeeper Simon Mignolet the wrong way from the spot.
After that, it was all Liverpool and only Courtois’ brilliance denied them a lead to take to London. He tipped Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s long-range strike over the bar in the first half and produced a string of fine saves after the break �X the best from a fierce strike by Adam Lallana that the Belgium international palmed away, right-handed.
��Of course, after all the chances, we have to be happy with the result,�� Courtois said. ��They were dangerous and it was difficult for us.��
Gerrard, seeking one last appearance at Wembley Stadium before his summer move to Los Angeles Galaxy, struck the post with a left-footed curling shot as Liverpool came close to a second. Courtois was also lucky to escape without punishment when he carried the ball outside his area after sliding to collect a long pass.
The League Cup is one of four trophies Chelsea is chasing this season and probably the lowest of manager Mourinho’s priorities. But the Londoners fielded their strongest possible lineup after playing weakened teams earlier in the competition.
��Of course after the all the chances we have to happy with the result. They were dangerous and it was a difficult for us. We were not at our best but a 1-1 score is good for the second leg. Tottenham plays third-tier Sheffield United in the other semifinal, with the first leg on Wednesday.�� Thibaut (Courtois) has been doing this all season, save after save. He showed what a world-class goalkeeper he is.��