By Toby Davis
For those who questioned Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers for allowing winger Raheem Sterling to take a mid-season break, the answer came in one emphatic burst of pace in Tuesday night’s League Cup semi-final draw with Chelsea.
Sterling had returned from a trip to Jamaica for Saturday’s Premier League clash at Aston Villa, and was reinstated to his role as a makeshift centre forward for the first leg against league leaders Chelsea at Anfield.
With Liverpool a goal down in the second half, after Eden Hazard’s early penalty, and becoming increasingly frustrated, the 20-year-old received the ball in Chelsea’s half.
Sterling powered away from the chasing John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic and showed a clean pair of heels to Gary Cahill before finishing expertly into the corner with his left foot.
The goal was straight from the top drawer and, with his pace and movement, the England forward was a nuisance to Chelsea’s back four for the whole 90 minutes of the 1-1 draw at Anfield.
It was the sort of performance that made a mockery of those who claimed his manager should not have let him take a break from the stress and strain of football to rest and recuperate.
“This is about the boy’s life and his career,” Rodgers said on Sky Sports. “People will talk about it but I’m only worried about the kid.
“You could see he was probably fresher, not so much physically but mentally. He’s had so much put on him so early in his career. There is no doubt he is an exceptional young talent.”
The result was disappointing for Rodgers after his side dominated the game and they will go into the return leg next week as underdogs to reach the final at Wembley against Tottenham Hotspur or third tier Sheffield United.
The Liverpool boss put a positive spin on the result, however, choosing to focus on the improvement in his side’s performance level from earlier in the season.
“We’re getting better with every game, you can see the confidence returning,” said Rodgers.
“We were very unfortunate not to win the game. We went behind against the run of play but we created opportunities.
“You’ve seen the return of the aggression in our intensity. The only thing which was missing was more than one goal…
“It felt like a big game and the performance was big.”