LONDON: Mario Balotelli enjoyed a rare moment of ecstasy in a Liverpool shirt by inspiring a 2-1 win over Swansea City in the League Cup on Tuesday while Chelsea had to call for reinforcements to see off Shrewsbury Town.
On a night when Premier League West Bromwich Albion were dumped out by second tier Bournemouth, both Liverpool and Chelsea flirted with danger before reaching the quarter-finals.
Liverpool fans have seen precious little in Balotelli’s performances this season to convince them he could ride to the rescue when the chips were down but he came off the bench to turn the clash with Swansea on its head.
Entering the fray on 79 minutes, the Italian took seven minutes to level the scores as he stole in front of his marker to prod home a cross from compatriot Fabio Borini after Marvin Emnes had put Swansea ahead midway through the second half with a superb volley.
A sustained roar erupted around Anfield as Balotelli’s effort found the net, as much in celebration of the goal as it was grounded in relief that the misfiring striker had finally found his range at a crucial time. It was the start of a dramatic finale that saw Swansea’s Federico Fernandez sent off for a late tackle and Dejan Lovren head home the winner after four minutes of stoppage time, to leave eight-time winners Liverpool well-placed to launch another assault on a trophy they last won in 2012.
Premier League leaders Chelsea will also fancy their chances of getting their hands on a cup they have won four times but they needed a wake-up call before ousting fourth tier Shrewsbury 2-1.
“I wasn’t expecting anything but a difficult match. I was ready for extra-time,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said, and he was not wrong.
Didier Drogba gave them the lead, with his third goal in three games, but the match seemed headed for extra-time when Shrewsbury’s Andy Mangan swivelled to fire past keeper Petr Cech with 13 minutes to play.
Nemanja Matic and Willian were promptly summoned from the bench to help quell the uprising, the latter’s superb cross causing panic in the defensive ranks and Jermaine Grandison turning the ball into his own net.
“I don’t say relieved with the result. I am happy with my players’ approach. You’re playing a World Cup final because that is what it is for Shrewsbury,” Mourinho added. REUTERS