There is not much that can pitch Liverpool's serene manager Rafael Benitez into a black mood, but even after his team had qualified for the Champions' League knock-out stages last night, at the top of Group G above Chelsea, he called for a Uefa investigation into a brutal first-half challenge by Michael Essien. The midfielder's studs connected just below Dietmar Hamann's knee in what the German described as "the worst tackle I have ever received."
With qualification for both sides secure, and even the status of group winners a dubious honour given the strength of some sides that might yet finish in second place, this match had all the makings of a phoney war. But the comfortable pitch- side bonhomie that Jose Mourinho and Benitez had enjoyed before their Premiership match in October dissolved in the crossfire of allegations that raged at Stamford Bridge last night after their fourth Champions' League encounter in eight months ended in a third goalless draw.
With Essien escaping even a booking from the referee Herbert Fandel, Benitez said that it was an incident that should be settled by Uefa reviewing the video. "I could see the tackle, it was right in front of the bench," Benitez said, "I have also seen the leg of Dietmar Hamann [after the tackle] you should look at the video of the challenge." The Liverpool manager did nothing more than urge his questioners, and Uefa, to take a second look but he may find himself disappointed: the governing body's jurisdiction is unlikely to extend to reviewing the incident.
Hamann hobbled away with the marks on his leg clearly visible in the close-up shot on television. "It was the worst tackle I have ever received in my life," the midfielder said, "and he has not even apologised for it." Those who witnessed Essien's foul on Bolton's Tal Ben Haim in October, an equally vicious studs-up lunge that only earned him a booking, will not have been so surprised at the Ghanaian's actions.
As the Liverpool bench erupted in protest, Mourinho and his fitness coach Rui Faria, never short of an opinion, responded in kind. The Chelsea manager said he had told the Liverpool staff that they "had been crying all game, all the time." He added: "I was saying, 'That's enough. Sit down, relax'. With me, referees are always very direct to put me in my place, but other managers can do what they want."
Offering an example, Mourinho said that he would have been banned "for three months" if he had run on the pitch as Manchester City's Stuart Pearce did against Blackburn Rovers. Mourinho said he had not seen the Essien challenge and he was even less concerned about the prospect of finishing second in the group, which means that Chelsea could be drawn against Internazionale, Milan or Lyon, who all finished top of their groups last night.
Liverpool could yet face Real Madrid, who finished second in Group F, but there will, at least, be no chance of drawing Chelsea in the next round. Mourinho and Benitez have faced each other eight times in all competitions since they arrived in England and this represented a far better return for the Liverpool manager than the 4-1 drubbing inflicted on his side in the Premiership at Anfield on 2 October.
A fifth consecutive clean sheet for Liverpool in the Champions' League is a club record, although they started on the back foot. Frank Lampard forced Jose Reina to throw himself at a shot after a poor clearance from the goalkeeper on seven minutes. Arjen Robben, desperately ineffectual for much of the game, gave the ball away to Luis Garcia outside his own area and only John Terry's late intervention saved Chelsea.
After Essien's tackle on 23 minutes the game threatened to come to life, but there were moments in the second half when the Chelsea squad's PlayStation Pro Evolution video game competition at John Terry's house this week must have seemed a lot more competitive. Lampard came to the touchline in the first half to be administered what appeared to be a pill by the club doctor Brian English, but looked out of sorts for most of the game.
In the second half, Robben hit the side-netting and Lampard struck one promising free-kick far over the bar. The Fifa world player of the year nominee did little better when presented with a shot at the end of one of Chelsea's best moves on 67 minutes. Robben's ball out left was directed by Eidur Gudjohnsen on to Damien Duff, whose cut-back to Lampard was lifted carelessly over the bar.
Asked why there had only been one goal between the two teams in four Champions' League matches, Mourinho offered the correction that there had, in fact, been none. He still refuses to recognise Luis Garcia's dubious winner in the semi-final at Anfield last season. "I think he talks a lot," was Benitez's assessment of Mourinho's touchline behaviour.
There is a festering resentment between these two men that could yet light up more significant encounters.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Ferreira (Del Horno, h-t), Terry, Carvalho, Gallas; Essien; Robben (C Cole, 73), Gudjohnsen, Lampard, Duff (Wright-Phillips, 73); Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Geremi, Diarra, Huth.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Gerrard, Sissoko, Hamann, Riise (Kewell, 60); Luis Garcia (Sinama-Pongolle, 79); Crouch (Morientes, 68). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Cissé, Josemi, Warnock.
Referee: H Fandel (Germany).Reuse content