None burned brighter than Patrik Berger on his full debut, brought in to replace Stan Collymore as Liverpool made their first team change of the season. The 22-year-old Czech bounced into prominence with two goals as a substitute at Leicester last Sunday, and two more yesterday confirmed the wisdom of his pounds 3.2m transfer from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.
Also confirmed were Liverpool's title credentials as they overcame some ill-disciplined Chelsea tackling with smooth movement and sharp finishing. "Not being flash I think we can play better. Some of our passing was a bit sloppy," said the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans.
The scoreline also served notice of the flimsiness of Chelsea's own pretensions. "Maybe it's good that it happened," said their coach Ruud Gullit. "Everyone thinks that we are there but that's not true yet."
Gullit chose to counter Liverpool's adventurous approach with an ambitious 4-3-3 formation. It proved folly. Initially surprised, Liverpool soon profited from their superior numbers in midfield and overran an overstressed Chelsea defence. "It has no sense to talk about tactical things," said Gullit. "Everybody didn't do what he had to do." They must hope he is fit again soon to exhibit his sidestepping on the field.
Before Liverpool came to terms with the task, Chelsea did threaten when Gianluca Vialli robbed John Barnes and drove in a cross which Dennis Wise almost reached, and then again when Roberto Di Matteo curled in a shot that David James held.
But with Berger playing just behind Robbie Fowler and dropping off to make himself available to the midfield, Liverpool began to flow. To this was added Chelsea's vulnerability in the air and Liverpool chances soon followed. Fowler went closest when he ran on to Mark Wright's header and clipped the ball over Kevin Hitchcock but just over the crossbar as well.
The striker soon adjusted his sights, however. Steve McManaman found Stig-Inge Bjornebye who strode through a vacant midfield area and sent a wicked curling cross to the far post where Fowler arrived to plant a firm header into the net - his first goal since the opening day of the season.
Chelsea's attacking threat was becoming sporadic but they did have a good chance to equalise. From Wright's weak square-pass, Mark Hughes nipped in and attempted to lob David James, but the 6ft 5in goalkeeper tipped the ball away. It proved but an interruption, and soon came a second Liverpool goal that, in Gullit's words, "snapped the team".
Dominic Matteo, the impressive 22-year-old defender keeping Neil Ruddock and John Scales out of the team, played the ball forward into space and Berger ran on to it, rounded Hitchcock and stroked home.
Moments later, it was three. There seemed to be little danger when Bjornebye's cross came in from the left with no Liverpool player attacking it, but Andy Myers, stopping to head the ball back to Hitchcock, instead diverted it past the goalkeeper and into his own net.
Chelsea reorganised for the second half, Michael Duberry entering the fray to form their more customary three-man central defence. The horse had bolted, however, and even then the stable door remained unlocked. Three minutes after the restart Berger had struck again, passing the ball neatly into the net after McManaman had sent him clear.
Now Chelsea were angry. Steve Clarke, Duberry and Vialli were booked for bad tackles in quick succession. Angry but still porous. From a weak headed clearance, Barnes volleyed the fifth, the ball deflecting past Hitchcock off Leboeuf.
Hughes might also have been booked for a clash with Mark Wright, himself cautioned, and Phil Babb was for extacting his revenge. Wise was awarded another yellow for scything Fowler and also provoked a melee in a tangle with Michael Thomas that saw Dan Petrescu hurling the ball at the Liverpool player.
"I will be critical of the referee in my report," said Evans, whose side also had justifiable claims for a penalty when Hitchcock brought down Fowler. Chelsea did get one late on, Leboeuf converting after Matteo had brought down Hughes. After the cries, it did not change the hues however. They were of pale Blues and bright Reds.Reuse content