LONDON – Jordan Henderson and Diego Costa almost came to blows in the Anfield tunnel as Liverpoolâ€™s Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea ended in acrimony.
The Liverpool midfielder had to be separated from the Chelsea striker by a member of his clubâ€™s backroom staff after the pair squared up following Tuesdayâ€™s first leg. No punches were thrown by Costa or Henderson but they pushed each other and were engaged in a furious argument.
Henderson, who released Raheem Sterling for his equaliser in the 1-1 draw, clashed with Costa towards the end of the game, although what sparked their post-match confrontation is unclear. The Chelsea striker was accused of standing on a Liverpool playerâ€™s foot and was caught by Martin Skrtelâ€™s elbow in the buildup to Sterlingâ€™s goal. Costa and Skrtel were involved in a running battle throughout Chelseaâ€™s 2-1 win at Anfield in the Premier League in November.
The feud between Henderson and Costa adds a subplot to Tuesdayâ€™s finely poised second leg at Stamford Bridge and another controversial chapter to the rivalry between the clubs. JosÃ© Mourinho refused to state whether Chelsea were favourites to reach Wembley after the draw at Anfield but Brendan Rodgers claimed to have absolute confidence Liverpool could become the first team to win at Stamford Bridge this season.
Sterling has said he needed a mid-season break in Jamaica to recuperate from his workload and the criticism that followed his withdrawal from Englandâ€™s starting lineup against Estonia in October.
The 20-year-old was recently given a week off by Rodgers and repaid his manager with a superb equaliser against Chelsea. The first leg represented Sterlingâ€™s 36th game of the season for club and country, a campaign in which he has assumed greater responsibility for both, and the forward believes he will be galvanised by the rest.
Sterling admits this season has had an impact mentally, in particular after being widely criticised for telling Roy Hodgson he was â€œa little tiredâ€ to start the European Championship qualifier in Estonia.
He said of his return to Jamaica: â€œI knew I would get loads of stick for being given the break but the manager did say at the start of the season this is what he would do. It was all pre-planned to have a break at some point. I have played a lot of minutes for someone my age but I am not complaining about that.
â€œI think it will help me. I am back now, refreshed and ready to go again. I am just focused on trying to help the team as much as possible. It is always good to get a few days off. I am focused on where I need to be, which is helping the team by scoring or providing assists. Mentally you feel it. I got a lot of stick about the tired stuff with England so it all came down on me. But it was the manager who makes the decisions. If he says take a week off who am I to say no? I am back now ready and focused.â€
Sterling has led the line impressively during Liverpoolâ€™s recent recovery and opportunities to rest him were restricted by his form and the teamâ€™s struggles. Though affected by the England criticism, he insists increased responsibility at Anfield has not become a burden.
â€œI try not to think about that too much,â€ said Sterling, who is expected to sign a new contract shortly. â€œEveryone in the team contributes and I am no different. We are a team. I am not trying to pick up a â€˜main man statusâ€™ this season. As long as the team wins and we get good performances that is all that matters to me.â€
Rodgers rued Liverpoolâ€™s inability to take a win into next weekâ€™s semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge following a confident display at Anfield but Sterling insists the tie is far from over.
He added: â€œIt will help our confidence because we played our normal game against Chelsea. We did the things we wanted to do. We were not forcing our play. We probed when we need to probe and attacked when we need to attack.
It will be difficult at Stamford Bridge because they havenâ€™t lost there this season but if we play our normal game and play the football that we know we can play I definitely think chances will come. Then it is up to us to take them and to defend well.â€ – The Guardian