Even just before the start, one participant of the verbal fencing duel was still thrusting his epée. Jose Mourinho stood in the tunnel and rather contemptuously pronounced: "This is the game of the season - for them. Because they have nothing else. It is not the same for us."
Somehow, you suspect, the Chelsea manager's attitude towards thistournament permeated his players' psyche. While Rafael Benitez's men performed as though their whole season depended on this result, Mourinho's side had the demeanour of performers who had something more profound to claim their attentions: a home League fixture against Manchester United next Saturday which could confirm their second successive championship.
As he digested this rare defeat for Chelsea by Liverpool, one principally the legacy of his own curious tactical tinkerings, Mourinho confirmed that obsession with the Premiership, by claiming: "We showed in the last half hour why we are [Premiership] champions and will be champions again and why in the Premiership in two seasons we have 45 more points than Liverpool." And lest we had not fully appreciated Chelsea's inate superiority over yesterday's opponents, he responded "They have no chance" when asked if Liverpool could close the gap next season.
At the end of a week in which managers and players of both sides had been indulging in mutually disrespectful observations about their rivals, such a comment exemplified what had preceded it. Benitez had issued cheap jibes about Roman Abramovich's wealth being more responsible for Chelsea's elevation than the talents of his counterpart. Meanwhile Mourinho retorted, with reference to the championship: "You are first, or you are nothing." Touché.
Bafflingly, Mourinho eschewed width, deploying a diamond formation which included full-back Paulo Ferriera in midfield and Gérémi at full-back. The Chelsea manager claimed that he would reserve his "creative" players for later. So, no Joe Cole, Damien Duff or Arjen Robben. Once the contest began, his reasoning for their omission became no more transparent.
Mourinho's midfield was desperately flawed in that first half. It did not help that Frank Lampard exerted little influence within the narrow confines permitted him. While Harry Kewell was in scintillating form on both flanks, and making a profit from his duels with Gérémi, Chelsea were bankrupt on either wing.
Earlier in the season, in the Premiership, Didier Drogba's presence brought Liverpool to their knees. If he had accepted one inviting chance in the first half he might have enjoyed a similar impact here. But he failed, and Liverpool capitalised.
Referee Graham Poll had much significance here. Quite why the official should penalise John Terry for foot-up just outside the area when both he and Luis Garcia had their boots raised only he will know. Mourinho should demand to know why Chelsea's wall disintegrated in the face of the John Arne Riise free-kick which followed. After the interval, Terry's header found the net, but he was pulled up for taking a ride on Riise's back. On that occasion, Poll got it right, although Mourinho was still protesting afterwards about the "two decisions against us".
Robben appeared after the interval. Cole and Duff followed, but by now Chelsea were two goals in arrears. Suddenly, they discovered their fluidity. Drogba scored and Cole should have, but the breakthrough would not materialise. Mourinho attributed it to his team spurning chances at crucial moments. In truth, hehas only himself to blame.