That match almost made me take up smoking purely for the victorious post-win cigarette. Liverpool gave us a real semifinal -- 210 minutes of football, some of them pretty nervy were needed to get us to Wembley -- but ultimately didn't have the quality to score to score they desperately needed at Stamford Bridge.
After 90 minutes, I think every Chelsea fan on the planet was raging against the League Cup's ridiculous away-goals rule, which apply only after extra time. Had this been a Champions League match, the extra half hour of football wouldn't have been required; here we got more match time to grind down our legs ahead of a key clash against Manchester City. But then Branislav Ivanovic struck, turning what would have been a win via technicality into one that felt thoroughly earned.
That were only three goals in the whole semifinal was rather odd considering the chances coughed up. Liverpool could easily have had a few more at Anfield and threatened intermittently here, but were denied by the combination of Thibaut Courtois and some hilarious finishing from Jordan Henderson, while the Blues were bizarrely wasteful in both matches, with Simon Mignolet stepping up in a big way in the second leg.
It was frenetic, end-to-end stuff today, with both sides looking at least vaguely capable of scoring at any moment, and the match was spiced up with some frankly nasty action between the two groups of players. There's nothing in football quite like watching two teams that genuinely hate each other play, which is what we got here. Which is, obviously, A Good Thing: while I don't want to misrepresent Liverpool purely out of tribalism, they're an abomination of a football club that should be destroyed as soon as possible, and I'm glad Diego Costa agrees with me.
Costa got to work quickly, jumping on Emre Can's leg as the ball went out of play early on in the game. Studs to the ankles are painful, and for my money it was clearly deliberate, but the stamp was done with such artistry I suspect you'd have a hard time proving it. The provocation got the hoped-for response: just after 20 minutes Martin Skrtel -- more on him later -- scythed him down in the penalty area.
Referee Michael Oliver decided that the challenge warranted a goal kick.
Yes, it was going to be that sort of game. Frustration was mounting for the Blues, who weren't doing that well at breaking through the visitors defence despite being repeatedly invited to by Mamadou Sakho, and they were giving up chances at the other end too. Kurt Zouma, brought in to help deal with the pace of Raheem Sterling, demonstrated just how fast he could be when he overhauled and won the ball back from the speedster after it looked as though he'd go through one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois*, and the goalkeeper was magnificent in dealing with shots from Alberto Moreno and the superb Philippe Courtinho.
*That this came after Zouma had somehow managed to lose an aerial duel with Sterling, a man he could probably jump over, rather takes the shine off the challenge, and the less said about the youngster on Coutinho's shot the better.
Brendan Rodgers pointed to Courtois' performance over both legs as the reason Chelsea are headed to Wembley and Liverpool aren't, but following the Coutinho chance the Belgian didn't have a great deal to do. By far the busier was his compatriot at the other end, whose life was made extraordinarily difficult by a third Belgian: Eden Hazard.
Courtois was named Man of the Match, but Hazard was clearly the best player on the pitch, hopping and skipping past people as though they weren't there. Henderson and Emre Can were both booked for fouling the tricky winger, and the winner came from a free kick Hazard won (and that Lucas might have been sent off for). From just before halftime, he was virtually unplayable, and if his 58th minute shot had been on target he'd have been rewarded for his industry with the goal of the season.
No fewer than four Liverpool defenders were on Hazard when he received possession, and seemed certain to nick the ball off him, but some extraordinary skill meant that he was able to escape their collective clutches and thump in a howitzer of a shot from just outside the box ... wide.
But while Hazard didn't trouble Mignolet directly, his work freed up Costa to do some real damage, and the forward could easily have broken his non-league duck twice in the second half. Both efforts were denied superbly by Mignolet, the first cleared with the legs following a deflection off Skrtel and the second won via an extremely brave diving challenge as Costa sought to go around him (a third good save was by Jordan Henderson and those does not count).
Costa spent the rest of the time merrily winding up everyone else. A second stamping incident, more marginal than the first, came off the ball after a tangle with Skrtel, and in extra time we were treated to the wonderful spectacle of the grim forward squaring up against a supremely frustrated Steven Gerrard.
By then Ivanovic had given us the lead. The right back was our spearman in a barrel, gliding through the penalty box unmarked (thanks, Mario) to nod home Willian's excellent free kick in the opening stages of extra time. His connection was superb, and while the header wasn't particularly well placed it was hit with enough power to leave Mignolet with no chance.
Although Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis were both lost to injury in the second half, Chelsea had solid replacements in Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires. The latter in particular was instrumental in locking the game down, chasing around in the midfield with the limitless energy that's become his trademark.
Liverpool weren't entirely toothless, and Henderson might have levelled it just after Ivanovic's goal when he beat Azpilicueta to a vicious cross only to sent the ball well wide, but their attempts to change things up involved Mario Balotelli and Paul Lambert and thus were unsurprisingly futile.
And so, thirty minutes after Ivanovic made the breakthrough, the home crowd could celebrate a very nice win and a future trip to Wembley. Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool AET over two legs. We were the better side and deserved to go through, but Liverpool kept it close and exciting. Which makes the win feel even better.
Bring on the final.