Football: Chelsea make their title pitch

Leboeuf and Goldbaek capitalise on new surface as Liverpool's Stamford Bridge blues deepen; Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1 Leboeuf (pen) 7 Owen 77 Goldbaek 38 Half- time: 2-0 Attendance: 34,822

NO GREEN CARPET treatment for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Just an exhibition of compelling, fluid football on their new lawn, laid at the behest of Gianfranco Zola and ordered by the chairman, Ken Bates, to aid their passing game, as Chelsea maintained a sustained championship challenge that is looking increasingly plausible. Only that defeat at Arsenal spoils an undefeated league run since the first day of the season, when Coventry were their conquerors.

So much for those who predicted the Londoners would falter with the absence of Pierluigi Casiraghi, Gustavo Poyet (who should be fit in a fortnight) and Brian Laudrup. Where Gianluca Vialli is concerned, no matter. They have discovered a Dane, Bjarne Goldbaek, at a touch over pounds 300,000, who has fitted neatly into his compatriot Laudrup's No 7 shirt and yesterday scored his third goal in two games, supplementing an early penalty opener from Franck Leboeuf - his fifth successful spot-kick of the season - as well as displaying an industry and vision that was a major contribution to his team's success. "He's playing really well," said Vialli. "He now knows what we expect from him when we haven't got the ball. I just hope he keeps doing the job."

Complacency is not in Vialli's character and, rather than dwell on the excellence of Goldbaek together with the merits of Marcel Desailly in defence and Dan Petrescu, the Italian is seeking further improvements. "We should have killed them off before the start," he said. "We had a lot of chances, but to do well we must be more clinical. We must improve our scoring percentage. Now the pitch is in such good condition, there are no excuses. It allows us to pass the ball around."

For Liverpool, yet to savour victory here in the Premiership, the spectacle of their players trooping off disconsolately at the final whistle is one that has been all too prevalent during a season in which they have lost eight away games.

Thirteen years ago Kenny Dalglish scored the winner here to secure yet another Liverpool championship. Maybe those days will never be recaptured, but this was simply not good enough for a club of their great stature and manager Gerard Houllier knows it. An early injury to the increasingly influential Vegard Heggem may not have helped the Liverpool cause, but that fact should be used in mitigation, not as evidence against prosecution.

"You were second best to everything," somebody suggested afterwards. "I think so," Houllier gave that little Gallic shrug, maybe wishing Roy Evans was present to divide the responsibility. "You've got to be realistic. They were better than us. We are not playing good football and when your leaders are not at their best, you suffer."

If those "leaders" he referred to included Robbie Fowler, the manager was right. The England striker muffed one first half chance and there was little evidence of a potent partnership with Michael Owen, who at least acquired some decent scoring positions, even if he only converted one 76th minute opportunity, presented by the Real Madrid-bound Steve McManaman.

The only amusement the travelling Liverpool fans derived was some ribald chants at the expense of Vialli's No 2, Graham Rix, who recently pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl and is awaiting sentence. However, Chelsea and Vialli are evidently standing by their assistant coach, and Bates even raised the issue in the matchday programme, writing that the club will not act or comment until the final outcome.

It all began very much as form suggested it would, with Chelsea establishing a lead after seven minutes. Zola cut into the area and his attempted cross was handled by Phil Babb. There were few protests from Liverpool when the referee Paul Durkin pointed to the spot, which provided Leboeuf with the chance to scored with aplomb. The visitors might have equalised during a period when Jamie Redknapp began to make incursions into the home rearguard but, somewhat against the run of play, Goldbaek reasserted the Blues' authority, converting a facile chance at the far post from a fine cross by Petrescu.

Houllier, though, was no doubt contemplating the fact that he was so unattended by any defenders he might have been suffering from an infectious disease.

After the interval, with Paul Ince by now replaced by Jean Michel Ferri, Owen cleverly fashioned an opening but nobody in red picked up his invitation in front of an open goal, but that was a rare foray for the visitors. Before the young England striker finally prised open the home defence 14 minutes from time, Goldbaek, Petrescu and Zola had all gone close to causing Liverpool further embarrassment.

There had also been time for Graeme Le Saux to display some of that typical petulance that can so mar his performances. He was cautioned for refusing to take a free-kick because he believed Robbie Fowler was encroaching. A few minutes later, Fowler was mystifyingly found lying clutching his head with Le Saux suspiciously close. After consulting a linesman at length, and then speaking to both players Mr Durkin took no further action.

Owen's goal regalvanised Liverpool, but they exhibited few signs of restoring the score to two apiece. Indeed, Chelsea might have profited further on the counter-attack. You can only admire Vialli's poise and ability to adapt his team to given circumstances. But he recognises that the toughest part is yet to come.

"You have to be physically and mentally very strong," he stressed. "You must have desire and spirit and self-belief for success."

To Chelsea's great advantage, there is probably no greater exponent of that than himself to set an example.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map