Brightest lights in the midfield firmament fail to find spark

Click to follow
The Independent Football

An eighth meeting between these two clubs under their high-achieving managers but a first for Steven Gerrard at Stamford Bridge, the turf he could have called home, since his tortured decision not join Chelsea last summer.

The Jose Mourinho plan was to harness him with Frank Lampard, of course, and the two midfielders were also bracketed together last week, finishing a close second and third behind Ronaldinho in the voting for European Player of the Year.

"It's a pleasure for me to see them play in the Premiership," said the Brazilian, who turned down the opportunity to represent that league himself. Indeed, Ronaldinho could have completed an astonishing midfield alongside the other two had Chelsea, then under Claudio Ranieri, not got cold feet as to how to handle him and his love of the nightlife.

Extraordinarily, it is also reasonable to assume that had the two England midfielders not split that vote in Paris, then one of them would probably have pipped Ronaldinho to the prize.

Their importance to their clubs is hard to exaggerate. When Lampard, at 27 two years older than the Liverpool captain, ran to the touchline midway through the first half, to take what appeared to be a painkiller, it was difficult to scan the Chelsea bench, despite its stellar investments, and find a worthy replacement. And even though Gerrard was exiled to the right flank he was still the fulcrum of Liverpool's attacking impetus and their midfield cohesion.

The first meaningful shots came from the two. All four of Chelsea's first-half efforts were from the mighty boots of Lampard - the best of which was the first, which stung the palms of Jose Reina. Gerrard, Uefa's most valuable player last season, who received admittedly half-hearted boos from the Chelsea fans when his name was read out, dragged his own effort wide with a sight at goal.

Not that it was an affair of cut and thrust - unless you count the damage inflicted on their opponents by the scarily uncompromising Michael Essien, always a more realistic target than Gerrard for the Premiership champions, and Momo Sissoko.

There was little sign of Gerrard's prescient long-range passing while Lampard, appearing hampered, played with a studied economy. His lack of a spark was highlighted by a free-kick, from trademark distance, which flew wildly over while, moments later, he ballooned Damien Duff's cut-back high into the stands. But, still, he was there to tally up the opportunities and that, along with his discipline and endurance, is one of Lampard's greatest qualities - his willingness to try and to keep his team with a forward momentum. It is a gift shared with Gerrard but as the game wore on the impetus was increasingly with the home side, although Lampard earned a booking for arguing after being pulled up for offside.

Gerrard, despite the mitigation of the constraints upon him, faded. A free-kick outside the area failed to clear the first Chelsea defender - and it was Lampard there to clear.