Football: Berger bolts door on the Blues

Liverpool 4 Chelsea 2
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The Independent Online
Phil Shaw

Liverpool 4 Chelsea 2

If ever the words fast and furious summed up a match, it was this relentlessly exciting and ill-tempered affair. Patrik Berger completed a hat-trick for Liverpool after Chelsea had lost Bernard Lambourde to an early red card, yet the plot was far more complex than such a bare outline suggests.

Liverpool thus purged the memory of their FA Cup defeat by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge in January, sweeping into sixth place in the Premiership in the process. Chelsea, who have now won just five times in 55 visits to Anfield, were left to reflect on a return of just four points from successive fixtures against Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle and Roy Evans' team.

However, the contest carried implications far beyond such parochial concerns. With England's crucial World Cup qualifier in Rome less than a week away, Steve McManaman turned on a performance full of mesmerising runs at break- neck speed; in short, the kind of display that ought to render the case for his inclusion against Italy practically unarguable.

On the debit side for Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit elected to withdraw Gianfranco Zola and sent himself on following Lambourde's disastrous indiscretion. The little Sardinian, who had cancelled out Berger's opener only minutes earlier, will go into the game in the Olympic Stadium in a considerably fresher condition than England might have hoped.

Another of Hoddle's squad, Graeme Le Saux, made a bad mistake to facilitate Liverpool's first goal and had a torrid afternoon. But again, should that lead the casual observer to assume that Chelsea were outplayed as comprehensively as in their 5-1 thrashing here 13 months ago, it would be misleading.

Even with 10 men, Chelsea demonstrated that they can be an awesome force going forward. Moreover, they were unfortunate not to receive a penalty shortly before half-time, and might have been awarded another before Gustavo Poyet scored from the spot in the final minutes.

A low-key start contained no hint of the drama that would be crammed into a 20-minute period which began midway through the first half. Paul Ince, who was invariably in the thick of the numerous fracas, set the ball rolling with a long pass from Liverpool's half.

Le Saux, having anticipated the danger in Berger's pursuit, misjudged the bounce. The Czech still had to beat the towering Ed de Goey, which he did with a deft left-footed lob.

Two minutes later, Mark Hughes, coming back from an offside position, blatantly barged Bjorn Tore Kvarne to the floor as he attempted to cut out Poyet's through-pass. Zola found time to check whether the linesman's flag was raised before rounding David James to equalise.

Yet within a further four minutes, Lambourde let Chelsea down. Already cautioned for an attempted rugby tackle on Karlheinz Riedle, the Frenchman bundled McManaman to the ground after a poor pass by Dan Petrescu had betrayed a promising attack.

Off came Zola, on went the player-manager into a defensive role, leaving Hughes to forage against four defenders: fair odds, some might argue. Chelsea's resolve was soon undermined as Berger sidefooted in from 12 yards from Stig Inge Bjornebye's cross, and their morale took another blow when David Elleray failed to punished Rob Jones' push on Poyet with a penalty.

McManaman's pass through a horribly square back-line allowed Berger to round off a 37-minute treble before an hour had elapsed. The scorer then turned provider by cutting the ball back for Robbie Fowler to collect his third goal in as many starts.

Poyet's late riposte, after Jason McAteer's foul on Tore Andre Flo, could not assuage the visitors' anger. They have never forgiven Mr Elleray for giving two penalties against them in the FA Cup final three years ago, though Gullit, of all people, had earlier had only himself to blame for losing his footing with only James to beat. It was that kind of spectacle: fast and not a little curious.

Goals: Berger (20) 1-0; Zola (22) 1-1; Berger (35) 2-1; Berger (57) 3- 1; Fowler (64) 4-1; Poyet (85) 4-2).

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones (McAteer, h-t), Kvarne, Babb, Bjornebye; McManaman, Carragher, Ince, Berger; Riedle, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Harkness, Thomas, Owen, Nielsen (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Sinclair, Lambourde, Clarke, Le Saux; Petrescu (Flo, 60), Di Matteo, Wise, Poyet; M Hughes, Zola (Gullit, 27). Substitutes not used: Babarayo, Vialli, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).

Sending-off: Lambourde.

Bookings: Liverpool: Ince, McAteer. Chelsea: Lambourde, Wise, Petrescu.

Attendance: 36,647

Man of the Match: Berger.