Sterling fires Liverpool into semis

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Raheem Sterling

Liverpool set up a League Cup semi-final meeting with Chelsea as Raheem Sterling scored twice to see off Championship leaders Bournemouth.

The makeshift striker nodded in the opener after Callum Wilson missed a glorious chance to put the hosts ahead.

Lazar Markovic’s precise finish doubled the lead, but the Reds were thankful for Yann Kermorgant’s glaring miss.

Sterling stroked in after the break and, although Dan Gosling bundled in to set nerves on edge, the Reds held on.

The victory should provide a welcome shot of confidence for a Liverpool side that had won only two of their previous 10 games and face an in-form Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday.

Sterling’s brace was the first time he has found the net for his club since September and, after missing a succession of chances in the weekend’s defeat by Manchester United, he looked more composed in a new central role.

With Liverpool struggling and Bournemouth topping the Championship on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run, only 10 league places separated the sides at kick-off.

But, after Wilson stabbed wide with only goalkeeper Brad Jones to beat, the visitors made that narrow gap feel like a chasm in class.

Familiar foe

Liverpool have won three of their five previous League Cup ties against Chelsea, including the most recent one, when Martin Kelly and Maxi Rodriguez scored in a 2-0 quarter-final win at Stamford Bridge in November 2011.
Chelsea’s 3-2 extra-time win over Liverpool in the 2005 final secured Blues boss Jose Mourinho his first trophy in English football.

Liverpool dominated possession and had threatened through Adam Lallana and Steven Gerrard’s crisp long-range strikes when Sterling capped a 52-pass move with the opener.

Sporting a newly shaved head, the 20-year-old stooped to glance home a close-range header after Markovic’s deep cross had been nodded into the six-yard box by Jordan Henderson.

Deployed as an advanced wing-back, Markovic had seen plenty of the ball and he played a part in creating his goal with a neat pass to Philippe Coutinho.

As Bournemouth defender Tommy Elphick turned his back, apparently distracted by a whistle from the crowd, the Brazilian fired a shot from a tight angle.

Goalkeeper Artur Boruc blocked his effort but the ball ran to Markovic, who thumped a side-foot half-volley through a forest of legs and into the bottom corner from 15 yards.

Bournemouth’s raids forward were rare but, against a jittery defensive trio of Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel, the hosts always looked dangerous.

Liverpool’s lead should have immediately been halved when Simon Francis burst down the right and squared for Kermorgant, but the Frenchman blazed over with the goal gaping and under little pressure.

With the Bournemouth defence pushing a higher line after the break, England international Sterling exploited the space in behind, twisting and turning Elphick before rolling home a composed finish.

Liverpool were briefly shaken when Matt Ritchie’s cross was ushered past Skrtel and Toure by former Everton player Gosling and his shot beat an unconvincing Jones.

Gosling smacked the upright with a curling effort but, with substitute Emre Can shoring up midfield, Liverpool regained control to close out the game in relative comfort.

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe: “We showed our quality, showed we can create chances against a good team, but you have to admire their quality – they have world-class players.

“We were too open and got caught between two schools.

“We tweaked things at half-time – we took a risk with two strikers but we wanted to be positive. We were at home in a cup tie and wanted take the game to Liverpool to give it a go.”

Brendan Rodgers and Eddie Howe

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers invited Bournemouth counterpart Eddie Howe to watch his training sessions while in charge of Swansea

Bournemouth react

Bournemouth were left to rue two wasted first-half opportunities

Lazar Markovic scores for Liverpool

Lazar Markovic scored his first goal for Liverpool since his £20m summer move from Benfica

Brad Jones

Brad Jones continued in the Liverpool goal in place of Simon Mignolet

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