London: Chelsea inflicted a third defeat in four games on Liverpool to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals as goals from Willian and Ross Barkley gave Frank Lampard’s men a much-needed lift at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
Liverpool remain well on course for a first league title in 30 years with a 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League, but run the risk of their competitive campaign coming to an early end once the title is sewn up unless they can overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League next week.
Jurgen Klopp made seven changes to the Liverpool side beaten for the first time in 45 Premier League games at Watford on Saturday, but still named a far stronger side than the youthful teams that had seen off Everton and Shrewsbury to reach the fifth round.
The European champions seemed keen to make amends and keep their chances of a treble alive early on, but were denied by the returning Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal as the first of a string of saves from the Spaniard denied Sadio Mane.
The return of the world’s most expensive goalkeeper was one of six Lampard made from a 2-2 weekend draw at Bournemouth with Willian also coming back into the team.
A run of five wins in 16 league games and a 3-0 thrashing at home by Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie last week meant the pressure was on Chelsea to keep their hopes of silverware this season alive.
And they got the lift they needed from the opening goal as Liverpool’s understudy goalkeeper Adrian undid the good work of a brilliant save from Willian within a minute.
The Brazilian was gifted possession again just outside the Liverpool box and this time Adrian could only turn his powerful drive into the bottom corner.
The hosts needed Kepa to show why they spent £72 million (Dh340 million) on him just over 18 months ago as he made three reaction saves in a matter of seconds to deny Mane, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino what seemed a certain equaliser.
Chelsea then lost Mateo Kovacic and Willian to injury either side of half-time to further deplete Lampard’s midfield options.
But that may provide the opportunity Barkley needs to kickstart his flagging career at the Bridge.
The England international doubled Chelsea’s lead in spectacular style midway through the second half as he galloped forward from inside his own half, leaving Fabinho in his wake, before smashing past Adrian from outside the area.
Moments later Chelsea should have been out of sight as a mix-up in the Liverpool defence allowed Pedro Rodriguez to run clean through on goal. The 32-year-old does not have the pace of his prime at Barcelona, though, and with Gomez closing in, he fired too close to Adrian.
Klopp threw on Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and James Milner in the final 20 minutes, but the German is yet to win a domestic cup competition in his five seasons at Anfield and that wait will go on.
Despite the changes, it was Chelsea who continued to look the more likely team to score again as Adrian produced a brilliant save to turn Olivier Giroud’s strike onto the bar.