Benitez summons up European spirit with tactical master class

Chelsea 0 - Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

Chelsea's greatest accomplishment in the Premiership this season has been their merciless extinguishing of hope in the hearts of all their title rivals. But when they travel to Anfield on Tuesday for this semi-final second leg they will encounter a stadium that crackles with anticipation and a football club that can at last dare to believe that they can turn the brash new order of English football on its head.

Chelsea's greatest accomplishment in the Premiership this season has been their merciless extinguishing of hope in the hearts of all their title rivals. But when they travel to Anfield on Tuesday for this semi-final second leg they will encounter a stadium that crackles with anticipation and a football club that can at last dare to believe that they can turn the brash new order of English football on its head.

No goals at Stamford Bridge, but it was clear that some of the favourite's status Jose Mourinho's team enjoyed before the tie has lurched away from them after they were dealt a tactical master class by Rafael Benitez.

The surroundings may have given the night a domestic aspect yet still Liverpool managed to summon the version of themselves that has disposed of Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus this season rather than the often wretched side who have contested the Premiership.

Tuesday will bring the arrivistes of European football together with a tradition that has the weight of four European Cups behind it. Anfield has sustained its team through nights like these before. There will be, Mourinho said, a "beautiful atmosphere" and yet it represents the most challenging environment that his team have faced. The prospect of this brilliant young coach leading his team into one of English football's proudest old cathedrals will not require any of Mourinho's grandstanding to lend the night its dramatic edge.

But Mourinho offered some anyway. The Chelsea coach was insistent that a goalless draw represented a "good result" for his side and predicted that, now "99.9 per cent" of Liverpool's fans would expect to win, the pressure would switch to Benitez's side. It was a brave attempt to force the burden of expectation back on to Liverpool, but this time Mourinho really was stretching the credulity of his audience. His side remain favourites, but it will be the upset scented by Anfield that gives the match its flavour.

Unlike his opposite number, Benitez spent much of last night's encounter on his feet, ushering his flawlessly organised team into two lines of defensive cohesion. If there was a touch of disappointment about the night for him then it was a booking for Xabi Alonso that rules the Spanish midfielder out of the return tie.

But Chelsea did not escape unscathed. Their inspirational captain John Terry took a blow to his foot in the early stages and, although he soldiered on, left Stamford Bridge limping heavily.

That other key member of Benitez's cast, Steven Gerrard, was not the rampaging, driving force that the most demanding Liverpool fans expect in every match, but his contribution was shaped by a different role, just behind the lone striker Milan Baros. It meant that the two strong men of England's midfield, Gerrard and Frank Lampard, were never properly aligned to engage in the great battle the nation expected. Lampard will remember the match for his miss on 22 minutes, the game's best chance.

There was no Damien Duff, who will be fit for the second leg, and in his place Mourinho opted for the more defensively minded Tiago. It was Chelsea's right flank, however, that interested Benitez. When Gerrard clipped, with barely a glance up, two long, dipping passes out to John Arne Riise within the space of three minutes it was evident that Liverpool had identified Glen Johnson as the most vulnerable in Chelsea's back four.

On 14 minutes, Joe Cole, a menace on the right, crossed for Didier Drogba, who did well to escape the attention of Jamie Carragher and Steve Finnan before the stage fright that has afflicted him of late took its grip. The Chelsea striker dragged his shot badly wide. Riise had seen a well-struck shot stopped by Petr Cech when he slipped away from Ricardo Carvalho and Terry in the area.

Liverpool's best chance came on 39 minutes when Gerrard drifted out to the right and clipped a cross on to Baros' head that Cech did well to palm out. But it was Chelsea, and Lampard, who had the greatest cause for regret. On 22 minutes Cole headed down William Gallas' cross for the England midfielder who snatched at his volley and sent it sailing over the bar from close range.

Chelsea exerted an element of control in the closing stages of the first half and Cole found himself alone on the right with the ball at his feet, but could only strike his shot at Jerzy Dudek. When the rebound fell to Terry, still in the area from the preceding corner, he pulled his shot wide.

As his side struggled to pierce the organisation of Benitez's back four, Mourinho sent on Arjen Robben and then Mateja Kezman, a hint that he was not, perhaps, as happy as he claimed with a goalless draw. Igor Biscan and Alonso provided a barrier that spared Benitez's defence the pummelling that was dished out to Bayern Munich when they came to Stamford Bridge in the previous round. As an attacking force, Drogba's contribution was severely limited.

The away side carved out one chance, an exchange between Gerrard and Biscan that allowed Djibril Cissé, on as a substitute, a shot on goal on 68 minutes. It would be unfair to Liverpool to say that they were left hanging on at the end but by then they had reached a stage that they had not managed all season. Three defeats to Chelsea have preceded this draw but a win for Liverpool on Tuesday would feel like equality.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Johnson, Terry, Carvalho, Gallas; Makelele; Cole (Kezman, 78), Lampard, Tiago (Robben, 59), Gudjohnsen; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Smertin, Geremi, Forssell, Huth.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Traoré; Garcia (Smicer, 90), Biscan (Kewell, 87), Gerrard, Alonso, Riise; Baros (Cissé, 65). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Le Tallec, Nunez, Warnock.

Referee: A Sars (France).

Man for Man



Two excellent first-half saves confirmed his supreme status. Gave a commanding performance. 8/10


Confidence gone. Targeted by Liverpool but, nevertheless, steadied himself. Good challenge on Garcia. 6


Assured, willing to attack. Rarely troubled although, also, was rarely put under pressure. 8


Too easily beaten by Riise early on. Recovered and not punished for sly challenge on Carragher. 7


Occupied by Garcia. Used his speed well but, again, did not get forward to any purpose. 6


At heart of midfield battle, won challenge after challenge. Dealt with Gerrard well. 8


Threat increased - tireless in defence and attack - should have scored with half-volley over the bar. But not at his best. 7


More of a forward presence that usual. Used the ball well but lacks pace and conviction. 7


Pick of Chelsea's attack. Creative and direct he also remained disciplined throughout. 8


An aerial, physical handful. Good contest with Liverpool's defenders. But he still misses too many changes. 7


Back in forward line until after the hour. Held position well. Disciplined if unspectacular. 7


* ARJEN ROBBEN (for Tiago, 59)

Added more pace and directness but still not fully fit. 7



Had to be vigilant but, despite threat, was rarely called into action. 6/10


Alert clearance from Cole early on. Tidy in distribution and disciplined. 7


Troubled by speed of Cole, aerial power of Drogba. Did not appear wholly comfortable but improved. 7


Strong, aggressive - but with his hands full. Could have earned first-half penalty, however. 8


Under pressure from Cole but stood up to the challenge although did look exposed. 6


Threatened more than he delivered. Clever on the ball - but dived when he was challenged by Johnson in area. 6


Deep lying role he was smooth enough in possession without the usual killer pass. 8


Defensively occupied. Struggled when going forward. Eclipsed at times. Deserved booking. 6


Carved out a brilliant first-half chance but should have attacked Johnson more. 7


Great ball for Baros header, but not the usual influence especially in his passing. Energetic. 7


Unlucky with his first-half header. He worked the Chelsea defence to begin with but faded before being substituted. 7


* DJIBRIL CISSE (for Baros, 65)

Great early turn but shot over. Added extra pace. 7.