Rafa Benitez's file on Didier Drogba was all to do with his diving, which was maybe not the least of the Liverpool manager's regrets as his team were swept off the road to Moscow and the Champions League final here last night. Benitez had to acknowledge that the real worry is when Drogba stays on his feet.
When he does that he tends to be unplayable and if some of the results of his triumph were not to place among the great moments of grace in sport – his dash halfway down the field to bait Benitez after his first, apparently crushing goal was particularly charmless – there was no question about the role of the big man from the Ivory Coast.
It was to carry Chelsea to the match that their owner Roman Abramovich has most wanted to win since he made a football empire from some of the mineral profits of the land to which he returns in the trappings of football success he has craved so long.
There are too many ironies accompanying Abramovich back to the city of the business coups and political entanglements which enabled him to make a proud old English football club his personal playpen to list easily here, but the one that stood above all was symbolised by the genuflection of his apparently time-expired manager Avram Grant.
Grant, reviled for his image as the owner's crony who supplanted the beloved but, on the big stage of the Champions League with Chelsea, ultimately unsuccessful Jose Mourinho, appeared to be walking into oblivion before fashioning this improbable pursuit of a stunning triumph both in Europe and at home. No one believes Abramovich's gratitude will be sufficient to preserve Grant in the job that so far has mostly brought him public ridicule, but at least on one sweet night he grew beyond Benitez, the man who supposedly knows every inch of Champions League terrain and psychology.
Benitez believed he could draw Chelsea – and Drogba – into his web and have Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard delivering the shock tactics to wipe away the home team's away goal advantage. However, Drogba's two goals and his willingness to run over rather than dive under Liverpool's defence delivered the night's weightiest blows as his team showed an old instinct to fight on their own wet soil that seemed beyond stifling when Frank Lampard, a man of absolute and single-minded commitment after a week of distress following his mother's death, fired in an extra-time penalty that brought Moscow into the sharpest perspective. Benitez's hopes had surged with the second-half strike of Torres. But Drogba, having first put Liverpool under notice that they were at the end of their latest European dreaming, delivered the killing stroke. He was there to thrust home the cut-back of substitute Nicolas Anelka when Liverpool were caught stretched out in desperate pursuit of an equaliser. It was another killing moment of perfect execution in a career clouded in as much controversy as pure aggressive brilliance.
It was the menace and the aura of Drogba that had first pointed to Chelsea success. He moved with a threat and a purpose that seemed expressly designed to demolish the arguments of Benitez.
But Drogba was not really about making a show. He was about serious business. He proved it with devastating effect after a series of early warnings to Liverpool's extraordinary ambition to reach three Champions League finals in four years. He kept his feet on treacherous ground – and, more vitally, his head when Lampard, emerging from compassionate leave with a passing touch of rare refinement, sent Salomon Kalou streaming in on Liverpool's goal.
Goalkeeper Jose Reina could only parry the shot, which left him utterly at the mercy of the big man whose histrionics never carry him too far from the hard edge of a talent that, the early going suggested, might well be seen in its most dramatic light even as he says goodbye.
Certainly he was by some distance the most imposing figure as Chelsea moved powerfully towards the goal that was always one step beyond them in the reign of Mourinho. Under Grant, Chelsea have been making less noise, but here last night some extrovert moments came after some weeks of increasingly impressive stealth.
They always looked the more likely to join Manchester United in a Moscow celebration of the Premier League's new domination of European football – right up to the moment Yossi Benayoun wriggled through a thicket of Chelsea defenders and released Torres.
This was a moment of craft and bite that Liverpool hadn't previously touched and when Torres reminded us of an instinct that was so sharp for most of the season it was a gift bound to carry us to another level of competitive tension.
A pattern had developed that did not belong to Liverpool. Or so it seemed until Torres broke loose. Liverpool's great quality, of course, is resilience of an epic kind. They showed that in Istanbul at the start of Benitez's jousting with the improbable at the highest level of the game and there was a flicker of it again when Torres struck back. Unfortunately, it couldn't carry them beyond the force of Didier Drogba.Reuse content