(NB): You can catch the exciting action of the Carabao Cup on Sportsmax.

Virgil van Dijk has warned Chelsea it would not be wise to underestimate a Liverpool team without Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez.

Jurgen Klopp’s side proved in midweek, when they came from behind to beat Luton 4-1 with an impressive second-half performance, they are capable of scoring goals without two of their major stars.

Both face late fitness tests ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final after Salah suffered fatigue in his first match back at Brentford last weekend after a month out with a hamstring injury and Nunez was replaced at half-time in the same game as a precaution.

With Diogo Jota, their second-highest scorer this season, already ruled out it leaves Liverpool looking less threatening up front even though Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz both have reached double figures.

But Van Dijk said that did not mean Chelsea should view it as an easier task as they seek to avenge their League Cup final defeat on penalties of two years ago.

“If they take us lightly then that’s their problem. That fear factor, we don’t have influence on that,” said the Netherlands captain.

“I think the players coming in then have to step up and show they’re wrong. I think that’s the only way to do it.

“I think we have enough quality to read the opponents. Players who come in have to show that.

“Everyone has to step up and the ones that play have to deliver to get results.
“I think if you play for Liverpool, you’re quite a good player already, so go out there and make everyone proud.”

Van Dijk assumed the captaincy in the summer after Jordan Henderson’s departure, so this is the first opportunity for him to lift a trophy having watched his predecessor celebrate with the Premier League, Champions League, League and FA Cup and Club World Cup.

“It’s important, but the most important thing is to try and win the game, and then we’ll see what happens after,” added the Dutchman, who accepts Chelsea are a different prospect from the one beaten 4-1 at Anfield a month ago.

“I visualise myself leading the boys out, but I don’t think about me lifting anything.

“I try to lead out the boys as good as possible, on and off the pitch, be their leader and so far, so good.

“So I’m thinking about a big challenge ahead of us. Hopefully we can make it an amazing afternoon on Sunday.”

In terms of whether victory at Wembley can provide a springboard for more silverware – Liverpool are still fighting on three other fronts – Van Dijk said: “We’ll focus on trying to win the game and then we’ll see.

“You know we can’t think about what’s coming next, we have to think about what’s ahead of us and that’s Chelsea at this stage.

“It’ll be a very difficult game, an interesting game as well. We have to be very good to do that, but let’s go for it.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes Chelsea are “awake” after recent results that have altered the course of their season ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The meeting with Liverpool at Wembley will be the club’s first final since co-owner Todd Boehly took charge and embarked on a radical overhaul that has so far not brought success.

It comes after wins away at Aston Villa in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, which were followed by a fine draw against champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week ago.

Those three performances have significantly changed the perception of Pochettino’s rebuilding of the team, after the last home game – a 4-2 defeat to Wolves at Stamford Bridge early in February – saw Chelsea booed off the pitch by sections of their own support.

Days earlier they were soundly beaten 4-1 at Anfield by Sunday’s opponents, a disjointed performance in which the team looked to be in disarray and well short of expectations set by the more than £1billion spent by Boehly on recruitment.

Now the the Argentinian is confident that the last three weeks have brought a significant change in his players’ ability to compete at Wembley with title-chasing Liverpool.

“We will need to manage some moments during the game,” he said. “But I think in the last few weeks we’ve learned a lot, we’ve stepped up from (the defeat at Anfield). We arrive with very good momentum.

“After competing against Villa, Palace and Manchester City, it’s provided the team with the confidence and the trust.

“The team is awake to the competition. There was a click to change in the way we compete, that we were missing in the first half of the season.

“The circumstances are completely different (now), for us and for (Liverpool).”

Since the game at Anfield, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has lost a number of key players to injury including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson Becker, Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones.

Pochettino has selection worries of his own, with Thiago Silva to be assessed having missed the last three games.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez is available after injury but Djordje Petrovic, who has impressed since coming into the side early in December, could keep his place.

Klopp has stated he believes his team are not favourites at Wembley, an idea the Chelsea manager rejects.

“(Klopp) is clever enough,” said Pochettino. “He knows that when you play a final, anything can happen. If they’re not the favourite, then we are not the favourite.

“For me Liverpool is the favourite. After eight years they have the experience to compete like a team, and be involved in different finals.

“For our players, it’s new. For some of them it’s maybe their first final. That’s why they are favourites, in my opinion. But he is clever enough to say it’s 50-50.”

Pochettino added that his team may ultimately be stronger for their chastening night on Merseyside in January.

“In this type of process, you need that these type of things happen,” he said. “You need to really wake up about the situation.

“The team needs to learn from the good and the not-so-good experiences. It was positive.

“After Liverpool, that result was completely unfair. But maybe that was good for us, to feel the pain, the negative situation, to be stronger now, and to find the way to compete better.”

Malo Gusto believes Mauricio Pochettino is “waking up” a winning mentality in Chelsea’s young squad as they prepare for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The Argentinian’s resurgent team face Liverpool at Wembley looking to claim the club’s first silverware since co-owner Todd Boehly took over in May 2022.

In that time there has been an almost total overhaul of personnel both on the pitch and behind the scenes, with over £1billion spent on assembling a team with the youngest average age in the Premier League.

After a slow start there was been notable improvement in recent weeks, culminating in a fine performance in ending champions Manchester City’s winning run at home with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

However, Pochettino and his players are yet to convince everyone. The team were booed off by fans following their last home game, a 4-2 defeat to Wolves at Stamford Bridge, with supporters’ frustrations also being directed at the manager personally.

Sunday’s final could be a key indicator as to whether a corner has truly been turned following the City draw and impressive wins away at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.

And defender Gusto – a key figure during the recent upturn in results, deputising at right-back for injured captain and England international Reece James – praised his manager for working to instil a winning attitude.

“He (Pochettino) is here for this,” said the 20-year-old. “He knows he has to wake up our mentality, to wake up our desire to win everything. We are Chelsea and a big club like Chelsea has to win everything, to keep fighting.

“He helps us a lot. He has tried to show us the desire to win, to keep fighting against every team. He talks to us a lot about tactics, technique and everything.

“He is a good person as well. He tries to help us a lot on the pitch and off it as well. He is a good coach for this young team.”

Gusto has been one of the outstanding performers of Chelsea’s recent recruits.

Signed from Lyon for £30.7million in January 2023, he was loaned back to the Ligue 1 side for remainder of last season before making his mark during the current campaign.

He has made 24 appearances in all competitions, after a recurring hamstring injury limited James to just nine.

A forward player in his youth, he has evolved into an effective attacking full-back and he has made four assists in the league, most recently setting up Conor Gallagher’s equaliser in the 3-1 win at Palace with a pinpoint low cross.

He made his senior debut for France as a substitute in a 2-1 win against the Netherlands in October.

He said he was not daunted by the prospect of dislodging James from the team before signing for Chelsea, adding: “I wasn’t thinking about what could happen. I just wanted to take my chance.

“If I can play, I play. I’ve stayed focus on my football. I work every day to become better, to improve. That’s what I do.

“We are not similar, (James) and me. He’s a bit different, but when we are on the pitch we try to keep a mentality to score and to assist.

“I work for (getting better going forward). I have good cardio, good legs. This is my football. When I was younger, I was the same, running every day. When your team-mates see you run a lot, you want to run a lot with them.”

The defender came in for particular praise for the way he dealt defensively with City’s Jeremy Doku during Saturday’s draw at the Etihad Stadium.

“I came to Chelsea because I wanted to play against great players. I think the game was complicated, but it was good for me to learn.

“(The praise) is nice, but I don’t really care about it, I just want to to become a better person and better player.

“The game against Doku, people talk about it, but it’s just one game. Maybe this weekend I could be s*** and the game after I could be better.”

Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo believes victory in the Carabao Cup final will provide the extra energy required to maintain their challenge on three other fronts.

Sunday’s meeting is a repeat of the Reds’ 2022 encounter with Chelsea at Wembley which Jurgen Klopp’s side eventually won 11-10 on penalties with only one player – goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga – missing.

However, only four of that Liverpool starting XI are likely to be in this weekend’s team – Mohamed Salah would be a fifth but is currently doubtful with a minor issue after making his comeback from a hamstring problem at Brentford – as a result of some high-profile departures and a raft of injuries.

The extent of the injury crisis was laid bare in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Luton, in which Klopp named a bench with three defenders and four academy players, and should that situation continue it could seriously hamper Liverpool’s bid to contend in the Premier League – which they lead – the FA Cup and Europa League.

But Endo said nothing gives players a boost like winning a trophy and for a large number of the Reds’ team – the Japan international included – Sunday will be their first chance at the club.

“If we could win this first one I think it would have a really positive impact on the other competitions we’re competing in,” said the £16million summer signing.

“Winning at Wembley would give us extra energy for the challenges ahead. I’m so excited to play there. It will be my first time at such a special stadium.

“It would mean a lot to me. It would be my first title with Liverpool and I’m focused on doing everything I can to help the team win the final.

“The manager has spoken to us about staying positive and needing to show that we are Liverpool. We did that against Luton.

“We don’t think too much about injured players, we just focus on the next game in front of us.”

Sunday is the first significant milestone in Klopp’s long goodbye after he announced his decision to leave at the end of the season.

Endo was away at the Asian Cup when the news broke but the 31-year-old, who has proved his critics wrong after being viewed as an emergency stop-gap holding midfielder, is keen to repay the manager’s faith.

“I was sad to hear about that. I really enjoy playing for him and playing football the way he plays,” he said.

“It’s disappointing but I really want us to achieve titles for him before he goes.

“I’ve only played for Jurgen for one season. Others have been here a lot longer so maybe they have more emotion but he has helped me so much.”

 

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After a tough introduction to English football the former Stuttgart midfielder has cemented his place as the team’s anchor, fulfilling a role which Alexis Mac Allister had been asked to do after Fabinho departed to Saudi Arabia in the summer.

 

“It’s hard to play for Liverpool. There’s always a lot of pressure,” Endo added.

“Playing in the Premier League is tough but this is something I wanted for a long time and I try to make sure I enjoy it and do my best every time.

“I feel like I’ve developed over the course of the season and that has helped to give me confidence.”

Chelsea and Liverpool will meet once again in the Carabao Cup final on February 25.

The Wembley clash will be the third final between the clubs in the tournament’s history.

Liverpool are the competition’s most successful team with nine victories while Chelsea who have lifted the trophy five times.

Here, PA news agency takes a look at their previous two finals.

2005: Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool aet – Millennium Stadium

Chelsea lifted their first silverware under Jose Mourinho at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which hosted English cup finals between 2001 to 2006 while the new Wembley was being built. Liverpool opened the scoring inside the first minute of the game after John Arne Riise volleyed home a cross from Fernando Morientes.

The game stayed 1-0 until Steven Gerrard’s attempted headed clearance went into the back of his own net.

Goals from Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman gave Chelsea a 3-1 lead in extra-time and they held on despite Antonio Nunez quickly pulling one back.

2022: Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool (Liverpool win 11-10 on pens) – Wembley

Liverpool were chasing a quadruple and ticked off the first trophy after a marathon penalty shootout at Wembley. The game remained goalless for 120 minutes but Liverpool prevailed 11-10 on spot-kicks after Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga missed his penalty.

The two sides would meet again later in the season in the FA Cup final. This was the first time that the same teams met in both the League Cup final and the FA Cup final of the same season since Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday in 1993.

That game also remained 0-0 after extra-time and Liverpool won on penalties again when Kostas Tsimikas scored his penalty after Mason Mount had his saved by Allison Becker.

But Jurgen Klopp’s side fell short in their pursuit of both the Premier League and Champions League trophies as their quadruple hopes were dashed.

Chelsea have the chance to apply balm to a tumultuous spell in their recent history when they face Liverpool in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

With there seeming little hope of achieving a European place via their Premier League form, the meeting with the Reds takes on added importance for Mauricio Pochettino’s young side.

Here the PA news agency looks at their route to Wembley.

Second round – Chelsea 2-1 AFC Wimbledon

Entering a round earlier than they are used to on account of having no European football, Pochettino’s side faced a shock when their League Two opponents took the lead via James Tilley’s first-half penalty, awarded after goalkeeper Robert Sanchez had flown from his goal with a reckless punch at a free-kick. Chelsea replied with a spot-kick of their own converted by Noni Madueke in stoppage time before the break. In the second half, Enzo Fernandez took advantage of an error from Alex Bass in the visitors’ goal to score for the first time since his £105million move from Benfica, sparing his side’s blushes.

Third round – Chelsea 1-0 Brighton

The Blues had lost at home to Brighton in the final weeks of the 2022/23 season, but with Roberto De Zerbi’s side juggling Premier League commitments with a first European campaign, Chelsea came out on top to progress to round four thanks to Nicolas Jackson’s goal early in the second half. The game was notable for a full debut for summer signing from Manchester City, Cole Palmer, the 21-year-old setting up the winning goal. He goes into Sunday’s final as the club’s top scorer with 12 in all competitions.

Fourth round – Chelsea 2-0 Blackburn

Benoit Badiashile marked his first appearance of the season after injury by scoring his second Chelsea goal, as Blackburn were dispatched at Stamford Bridge. The defender pounced on an error from Rovers goalkeeper Leopold Wahlstedt who failed to deal with Palmer’s corner, tapping home from close range. Raheem Sterling scored in the second half, set up again by the increasingly influential Palmer, to put his team into the last eight.

Quarter-final – Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle (Chelsea win 4-2 on penalties)

Chelsea looked to be heading out when Callum Wilson took advantage of chaos in their defence to put Newcastle a goal up in the first half, as indifferent Premier League form looked to have caught up with the team’s cup progress. That’s the way it stayed until stoppage time, when Kieran Trippier hesitated in dealing with a cross and Mykhailo Mudryk stole in to rescue his side. A penalty shoot-out followed, with Trippier the villain again for the visitors before goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic saved from Matt Ritchie to send Chelsea through.

Semi-final – Middlesbrough 1-0 Chelsea / Chelsea 6-1 Middlesbrough (6-2 on aggregate)

A calamitous first leg at the Riverside Stadium saw Pochettino’s team return south embarrassed after missing a host of chances against the Championship outfit, with Palmer the principal culprit. Hayden Hackney’s goal was the difference to leave boss Michael Carrick and his players dreaming of Wembley. Those aspirations were extinguished by half-time in the return leg in west London, with Chelsea 4-0 up by the break en route to a 6-1 win that ensured it would be they and not Boro that face Liverpool on Sunday.

Familiarity, so the saying goes, breeds contempt, but for Liverpool and Chelsea it has resulted in a war of attrition.

The two teams have met 17 times since September 2018 and, on the three occasions those have been finals, each one has gone to penalties, with Liverpool victorious in all three.

And, while Sunday’s reunion at Wembley is a repeat of the 2022 Carabao Cup final, which had an epic shoot-out settled by Reds goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher scoring his side’s 11th attempt and Kepa Arrizabalaga missing his, there are few similarities with that afternoon.

Injuries and key departures mean Liverpool, the record nine-time winners, will be able to field just five of the starting XI from that day; Chelsea can put out just two after a huge churn of players during a billion-pound spending spree in the interim.

The final represents the first moment of significance in Jurgen Klopp’s long goodbye after his decision to step down at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Chelsea have burned through three managers in Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard before giving Mauricio Pochettino the chance to arrest their gradual decline.

And it has been a decline.

When the pair met two years ago Liverpool were second in the Premier League table, chasing Manchester City in a brilliant title race which they lost by a point despite racking up 92 of them, while Chelsea were third, albeit 10 points behind.

But, despite their recent upturn in form, this time the Stamford Bridge side are 22 points adrift of the table-topping Reds in 10th.

Liverpool, competing on four fronts, are favourites, having lost just twice to domestic opponents, and, last month’s blip at Arsenal aside, Klopp has restored his squad’s competitiveness, even if they are not quite hitting the heights of that 2021/22 season.

However, injuries have hit at the wrong time, with influential players like full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, forward Diogo Jota, midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai and goalkeeper Alisson Becker already ruled out of the showpiece.

That may be just the opening Chelsea need after they were ripped apart 4-1 at Anfield barely a month ago.

There followed a 4-2 home defeat to Wolves four days later, after which they became one of the few teams to win at Villa Park while earning a creditable draw at Manchester City last weekend.

They appear to have played themselves into some form and Pochettino will look to build on that as he seeks to redress the balance against Klopp, against whom he has won just once in 12 meetings, and gain a small measure of revenge for the Champions League final defeat in Madrid in 2019 as Tottenham manager.

The Argentinian is desperate to end his trophy drought with English clubs in his seventh season in the country and silence some of the critics who are just starting to question his credentials again, having failed to spark a revival at Stamford Bridge, despite the massive investment in the playing squad.

That January Anfield defeat ended a run of seven successive draws between the two sides and, with all factors considered, that points to another close Wembley encounter – and possibly penalties yet again.

There will be no shortage of sub-plots when Chelsea take on Liverpool for the first silverware of the season in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.

Each coming off tumultuous campaigns last season, fortunes this season have diverged with one challenging on all fronts whilst the other labours to rediscover former glories.

The PA news agency looks at the talking points.

Liverpool’s injury list

It was confirmed on Tuesday that Diogo Jota and Alisson would be out for significant periods while Curtis Jones also joins Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip on the absent list for Sunday.

There is no guarantee that Darwin Nunez, who like Jones and Jota was withdrawn in Saturday’s win over Brentford, or Dominik Szoboszlai will be fit as Jurgen Klopp’s squad risks being stretched thin on the run-in, beginning with Sunday’s final.

Chelsea’s young team coming of age

Mauricio Pochettino has talked about the importance of success in the Carabao Cup for the development of his players, who with an average age of just over 23 comprise the youngest squad in the Premier League.

After the semi-final win over Middlesbrough he stated Sunday’s final means more to Chelsea’s current crop than the club’s trophy-laden history would suggest, and that victory at Wembley could accelerate their development. Fresh from an encouraging performance in drawing with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, lifting the cup on Sunday could be a watershed moment.

Salah back and in form

Klopp was without Mohamed Salah for almost seven weeks prior to his return to the team as a first-half substitute against Brentford, but his performance at the Gtech Stadium saw him hit the ground running.

An excellent assist for Alexis Mac Allister’s goal that made it 2-0 was followed minutes later by a fine finish of his own to show his manager it is not all bad news on the selection front. It will be a tonic to Klopp’s injury concerns if the Egyptian can help his team and himself to an eighth trophy of his Liverpool career on Sunday.

Chelsea’s best hope of Europe

With a top-six league finish looking out of reach it seems increasingly likely that cup success is Pochettino’s best hope of marking his first season by leading the club back into Europe after a year away.

They still have the FA Cup to play for, with a fifth-round meeting at home to Championship high-fliers Leeds next week, but a win at Wembley on Sunday will ensure at least a place in the Europa Conference League. It may not be a return to the Champions League, a competition the team won was recently as 2021, but it would be progress after a turbulent 18 months on and off the pitch.

Liverpool head to their second Carabao Cup final in three seasons this weekend looking to extend their own competition record of nine victories.

Here, the PA news agency details how they got there.

Fourth round: v Leicester (h) 3-1, September 27

Dominik Szoboszlai’s brilliant strike from the edge of the penalty area was the highlight of a second-half comeback after falling behind to Kasey McAteer’s third-minute goal. Cody Gakpo’s shot on the turn levelled things up just after the break, Szoboszlai smashed home and Diogo Jota’s cheeky backheel clinched victory.

Fifth round: v Bournemouth (a) 2-1, November 1

Darwin Nunez’s goal was worthy of winning any cup tie on a filthy night on the south coast. Gakpo opened the scoring with a scruffy close-range finish only for Justin Kluivert’s far-post header to level things up just past the hour. Nunez’s poor first touch was jeered by home fans but he made them pay by cutting in from the left touchline to whip a vicious shot over Andrei Radu.

Quarter-finals: v West Ham (h) 5-1, December 20

Gakpo made it three in as many cup ties but Curtis Jones was the real star with two goals. Szoboszlai opened the scoring with another long-range strike and Mohamed Salah scored a trademark breakaway before Jones’ driving run completed the scoring. Jarrod Bowen’s curling effort had briefly made it 3-1.

Semi-finals, first leg v Fulham (h) 2-1, January 10

Gakpo’s winner was his fourth successive goalscoring appearance in the competition and his tidy near-post effort gave Liverpool an advantage to take to Craven Cottage. Jones’ deflected shot from the edge of the area in the second half cancelled out Willian’s opener and Gakpo swept home in the 71st minute to turn things around.

Semi-finals, second leg v Fulham (a) 1-1, January 24

Luis Diaz’s early deflected shot beat Bernd Leno at his near post and set Jurgen Klopp’s side on their way to Wembley. Issa Diop’s quick improvisation diverted home a cross with his thigh but they could not make further inroads.

Chelsea striker Mia Fishel will be out for a significant period after sustaining an ACL injury while on international duty with the United States.

The 22-year-old is the second Blues player to pick up such an injury this year after striker Sam Kerr was ruled out in January.

Fishel signed from Mexican side Tigres in the summer and has scored once in 10 Women’s Super League appearances this season.

In a statement the club said: “Mia will be assessed by a specialist in the coming days and will then begin her rehabilitation with the club’s medical team at Cobham.

“Everyone at Chelsea would like to wish Mia the very best for her recovery.”

Emma Hayes’ defending WSL champions were beaten 1-0 by Manchester City on Friday and now lead the table only on goals scored.

Brighton’s head of recruitment Sam Jewell has been placed on garden leave after accepting a new position at Premier League rivals Chelsea.

Jewell took up the role with the Seagulls in 2022 following the departure of his predecessor Paul Winstanley to Stamford Bridge.

The 34-year-old, who is the son of former top-flight manager Paul Jewell, joined Albion in May 2016 as recruitment manager for the men’s under-21 side and became emerging talent manager in March 2019.

Brighton’s assistant technical director Mike Cave, supported by scouting and intelligence manager George Holmes, will assume Jewell’s responsibilities at the Amex Stadium with immediate effect.

Jewell is set to join a long list of Brighton staff to move to west London in recent years, which includes Winstanley and Laurence Stewart, who are Chelsea’s co-sporting directors, and former Seagulls boss Graham Potter.

The Blues have also signed defender Marc Cucurella, goalkeeper Robert Sanchez and midfielder Moises Caicedo from Albion during that time.

“Sam Jewell has accepted a new position at Chelsea FC,” read a short Brighton statement.

“Sam has now commenced a period of gardening leave. We thank him for his long service to our club.”

Rodri wants Manchester City to move on quickly from the frustration of Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea.

The champions dropped two points in the Premier League title race after spurning a succession of opportunities in the second half of a compelling encounter at the Etihad Stadium.

It might even have been worse had Rodri not finally made a chance count by cancelling out Raheem Sterling’s first-half opener with a deflected strike in the 83rd minute.

The result ended City’s six-game winning league run and left them third in the table, four points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand, which they play on Tuesday against Brentford.

Midfielder Rodri said: “We could do better in some situations. We have to learn from the mistakes and try to move on. Sometimes a point is not bad.

“We are frustrated we didn’t win but after a few hours that is it. We move on.

“We keep fighting but we have to perform well in the next game against Brentford.

“It is one of the most important games because we can be there again at the top of the table with Liverpool, with one point (difference). This has to be the mentality.”

Chelsea were also guilty of wasting chances during a first half in which City proved vulnerable to the counter-attack.

Sterling eventually made them pay with a well-taken goal against his former club two minutes before the break.

City dominated the second period but could not find a way through until Rodri drove home after a Kyle Walker shot rebounded into his path.

Erling Haaland proved particularly profligate, even missing a free header from six yards, but Rodri was quick to defend the normally clinical Norwegian.

He said: “You have to be precise and effective and we weren’t, to be honest. We weren’t ourselves.

“But that is normal. It is not always (perfect).

“Erling always helps us with his goals but he had three chances and it couldn’t be possible. We’ll just support him and we know he is going to give us everything for the next ones.”

Chelsea have been inconsistent throughout the season but their confident performance offered plenty of reason for optimism heading into next week’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool.

Goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic told chelseafc.com: “We didn’t realise our chances and we didn’t kill the game, maybe to make a two-goal lead and have a better chance.

“So we are a little disappointed but also happy because we showed to everyone we can play against a top team.

“It is a big motivation to everyone. We showed we can play and we will show that against Liverpool.”

Pep Guardiola refused to blame Erling Haaland for wasting chances after Manchester City were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Chelsea on Saturday.

The normally prolific Haaland spurned a number of opportunities, including one glaring free header from six yards out, as the champions were held in a compelling Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium.

City ultimately needed an 83rd-minute equaliser from Rodri to rescue a point after their former forward Raheem Sterling had put the Londoners on course for an unexpected win with a 43rd-minute effort.

City manager Guardiola said: “It’s good to have nine shots and next time he’s going to score.

“I was a football player for 11 years and scored 11 goals. What stats! One goal a season. I’m not a proper man to give advice to strikers.

“We create the chances; he had the chances and next time he’s going to score. I don’t blame him. It’s football, it’s human beings.”

Haaland looked frustrated at the end of the game and pushed away a TV camera, but it has been a difficult week for the Norway international after the death of his grandmother.

The result left City four points off the top of the table in third place, after title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal won earlier in the day.

City dominated the second half, but Guardiola felt they paid the price for a poor first-half display.

Guardiola said: “As a team and a group, the first half was not like we are.

“The demands are so high because no-one is going to give it to us, we have to do everything. We are Man City, so we have to do it for ourselves all the time.

“We had to improve the first half and the second half was unbelievable, how we played and how we made transitions.

“In general, it was really good after we conceded from Raheem but when we play teams with composure and prestige of Chelsea you have to perform at your best for 95 minutes.”

Chelsea’s season has been one of inconsistency, but manager Mauricio Pochettino felt they showed their true character against strong opposition.

Pochettino said: “We tried to prepare, all the coaching staff, to make the plan for the game but football is always a game that belongs to the players and today the execution and the performance was from them. They showed character.

“It was a really important game for us to keep the momentum to realise we are in a good way and improving.

“Still we are not at the level of Man City but that is our aim.

“We need to live this type of game to improve and to create the spirit we need. We show in every single game we want to be competitive.”

Rodri struck a late equaliser as champions Manchester City were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in a compelling Premier League clash with Chelsea.

Raheem Sterling stunned his former club when he fired the visitors into the lead just before half-time in a fiercely-contested encounter at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening.

Yet City, needing to respond to the victories of title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal earlier the day, fought back and created a succession of chances before Rodri finally found the net after 83 minutes.

His powerful effort was greeted with much relief around the stadium including, presumably, by team-mate Erling Haaland after a glaring miss.

There was still time for further drama with a stoppage-time penalty check for handball against Levi Colwill but nothing was given.

Despite City’s rescue act, the result nevertheless ended their 11-game winning run in all competitions and left Pep Guardiola’s side third in the table, four points off the top.

Despite heavy rain, City started brightly with Julian Alvarez twice threatening but Chelsea also looked dangerous and Conor Gallagher opened up the home defence before misplacing his pass.

Haaland headed hit first chance of the night wide before Sterling let City off the hook when he shot tamely at Ederson after beating Manuel Akanji.

Chelsea went close again when Gallagher picked out another ex-City man in Cole Palmer in the box but Nathan Ake denied him with a fine challenge.

The visitors squandered a better chance when Malo Gusto raced onto a Palmer ball and sent Nicolas Jackson through on goal but a poor touch allowed Ederson to claim at his feet.

It seemed Chelsea might have been made to pay for those misses as Jeremy Doku created an opportunity but he fired straight at Djordje Petrovic.

The Londoners finally made a chance count three minutes before the interval as Palmer released Jackson with a simple ball and he picked out Sterling in front of goal.

The former City forward still had much to do as Kyle Walker closed in but he wrong-footed the full-back with a cut-back and then curled confidently past Ederson.

His celebration was muted but he had done enough to prod City into life and Haaland should have scored as Chelsea struggled to clear a corner but headed over.

The hosts began the second period strongly as Kevin De Bruyne shot narrowly over from a free-kick and Haaland volleyed wide following a quick counter-attack.

Walker also wanted a penalty after tangling with Sterling but referee Andrew Madley awarded a foul in the opposite direction.

Chelsea seemed certain to double their lead when Gusto swept in a superb ball for Sterling to meet with a powerful first-time shot but Ederson saved brilliantly with his foot at point-blank range.

City stepped up the pressure with Foden and Haaland both having shots blocked before Rodri blasted over.

Haaland forced a good save from Petrovic and then wasted a glorious chance when he headed over from six yards from a pinpoint De Bruyne cross.

Chelsea’s resistance was eventually broken seven minutes from time when a Walker shot rebounded into the path of Rodri and the Champions League final match-winner thundered in an equaliser with the aid of a deflection.

The closing stages were frantic but Chelsea held on despite a nervy moment when VAR checked for handball against Colwill.

Mauricio Pochettino promised his Chelsea side would attack Manchester City when the two clubs meet at the Etihad Stadium for Saturday’s Premier League clash.

The defending champions drew a memorable game 4-4 at Stamford Bridge in November with former City player Cole Palmer scoring a penalty in stoppage time for the hosts to snatch a point.

Chelsea have endured mixed fortunes since, losing half of their 12 league fixtures, though following Monday’s 3-1 win away at Crystal Palace, they could climb to a season-high seventh place with victory against Pep Guardiola’s side.

With 14 games to go, the team have already score three more league goals than they managed in the entirety of the last campaign, when only four sides netted fewer.

Pochettino said there was no chance they would sit and wait for City – who have lost just once at home in the English top flight in almost two years – to come on to them.

“The lesson (from the first game) is that we’re going to face one of the best teams in the world, but at the same time you need to be brave enough to try to force them to defend, to run back and to face their goal,” he said.

“If we go there and wait to see what’s going on, it’s a team that can dominate you and will make you suffer.

“The most important thing we realised is that we need to attack, be able to run and to make the effort all together.

“The most important thing is to go there and be brave, to challenge them.”

Saturday’s game will be the first time Palmer has returned to the Etihad since his £40million summer move to west London.

Before making the switch, the 21-year-old scored for City in this season’s Community Shield, which was lost on penalties to Arsenal and in the UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla.

He is currently top scorer for his new club with 12 in all competitions and has been arguably the standout success of co-owner Todd Boehly’s mammoth £1billion transfer spend.

Palmer had previously hinted that he moved as he did not believe he would get sufficient game time at City.

“He’s not the type of player that needs to prove anything,” said Pochettino.

“I think he really is very grateful for his period at Manchester City, (but) he left the club because he wanted to find another challenge and to have the possibility to play more.

“Man City have an amazing squad. (Clubs) make decisions that we think are the best for the team. It doesn’t mean someone is not a good player.

“Sometimes the circumstance doesn’t match. Players want to leave and you can’t stop them because you can’t provide the game time.

“It’s unfair to say they’re going to regret it. Man City are one of the best teams in the world and it’s not easy to find the space to play for a young guy.

“Someone here on the staff said to me ‘he’s from Manchester, but he looks like a Brazilian or an Argentinian’.

“He has the capacity to adapt so quick, because our strengths as South Americans, its that we come to Europe and we adapt very quick.”

Pochettino confirmed defender Thiago Silva would miss the game with a minor injury, though Levi Colwill and Malo Gusto were available.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was fit for contention – having not played since December – but the manager would not say whether he would be selected ahead of Djordje Petrovic.

“You will see,” he said. “You never know in football what can happen.”

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