Chelsea have one foot in the Champions League semifinals after fighting back from going a goal down at Anfield to beat Premier League rivals Liverpool 3-1 in their quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday.
The London side knocked Liverpool out of the competition at the last four stage last year and they look set to repeat that feat this season, despite going behind to an early goal from Fernando Torres. With just five minutes on the clock, Dirk Kuyt fed Alvaro Arbeloa with a clever back-heel and when the full-back delivered his low cross an unmarked Torres applied the perfect finish. Didier Drogba squandered a gilt-edged chance to equalize seconds later. Fellow-Ivorian Salomon Kalou slipped the ball into his path but Drogba’s shot was kept out by goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Drogba wasted another clear chance to level in the 28th minute after Michael Ballack’s low cross had allowed the striker to shake off Jamie Carragher — but he blazed the ball high over the bar from just eight yards out. Chelsea continued to press forward and their effort paid off in the 38th minute when Branislav Ivanovic equalized with an unmarked header from Florent Malouda’s corner.
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The second half saw much of the same with Liverpool on the back-foot as Chelsea pressed forward and they nearly added a second in the 51st minute when Frank Lampard’s pass put Drogba clear again. This time the striker’s shot beat Reina but Carragher managed to scamper back to clear the goal-bound effort for a corner. Liverpool briefly threatened when Torres fired over the bar from an acute angle and Chelsea suffered a blow when captain John Terry received a yellow card for a late challenge on Reina, meaning he will be suspended for the second leg at Stamford Bridge next week. However, Guus Hiddink’s side may not now need their inspirational leader after two goals in six second-half minutes stunned the home supporters. In the 61st minute, the Liverpool defense again went missing to allow Ivanovic to socre a carbon-copy header, this time from Lampard’s corner. Then in the 67th minute, a quick break from Malouda saw his superb low left-wing cross turned home by Drogba from close-range. From then on, Chelsea were in cruise control and a dispirited Liverpool could have fallen further behind had Malouda and Salomon Kalou converted last chances for the visitors. With Barcelona thrashing Bayern Munich 4-0 in Wednesday’s other match, a Chelsea v Barcelona semifinal looks assured unless Liverpool manage an unlikely win next week. Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez acknowledged it will be “very difficult” for his team to overturn the deficit at Stamford Bridge. He told Sky Sports: “Clearly it will be very difficult — but anything can happen. We have to play well and score three goals and have a very good game against a very good team.” The Spaniard continued: “I felt we started really well but after the goal we didn’t pass the ball properly. We were giving the ball away, and they were passing it well.”