From his place in the Stamford Bridge stands yesterday, Tiger Woods might have expected to witness as much rivalry and bad feeling as he would anticipate over next weekend at the K Club. But the great feud between Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho ended with a handshake before the match began and if that signified peace then there was no doubt who won the war.
Michael Ballack was shown a straight red in the 52nd minute and Chelsea held out convincingly with just 10 men. In the great recent saga of 12 matches in the last three seasons between these two foreign managers Mourinho has won six, including all five Premiership encounters.
He owed this win to one moment of brilliance from Didier Drogba who scored a winner of such undeniable quality that Benitez's protestations of the chances his side created sounded limp in comparison. It could have been far worse for Liverpool had Momo Sissoko been dismissed for a second yellow card for a foul on Frank Lampard moments after the Malian had been unfairly booked after a tangle with Claude Makelele. If the result had not gone Chelsea's way, the referee, Mike Riley, would not have been spared by Mourinho.
As it turned out, the Chelsea manager, and Ballack himself, were prepared to admit that the red card was deserved. He arrived late to plant his studs on Sissoko's thigh to earn the first straight red of his career and he departed with a look of embarrassment. The Germany captain said that he apologised to Sissoko after the match having watched the incident again.
"It was a bad situation for me, I came on to it late but I have seen it on television and it doesn't look good," Ballack said. "I wanted to say sorry to him. It's the first red card of my career. I have told Sissoko that I have no problem with him at all. When he could have had a second yellow card I even said to him 'Be careful'."
Becalmed by victory, Mourinho may have acknowledged the culpability of his player but he had no doubt that Sissoko should have been dismissed in the first half for a "clear red card". That would, the Chelsea manager, said have "killed the game" with his side already in the lead. "Let's not kill the referee, just because it wasn't his day," Mourinho said. "Everyone has their off days."
Penalty claims for both sides had the managers on their feet. Mourinho was two feet beyond the touchline when Arjen Robben tumbled and the Chelsea manager diffused the situation by embracing the fourth official. Benitez was much less forgiving when Steven Gerrard clashed with Lampard in the 76th minute.
Those were the details, but the wider picture looks bleaker for Benitez. After embarrassing Chelsea in the Community Shield last month his team looked much less coherent, with Gerrard fitted in on the left to accommodate Jermaine Pennant on the right wing. Pennant did manage to get over more crosses than he might have expected against Ashley Cole but Liverpool's finishing was woeful.
Gerrard's redeployment on the left wing yesterday did little to maximise his great gifts. He made Khalid Boulahrouz's life miserable to the extent that the Dutchman was eventually replaced but still Gerrard did not win Liverpool the game.
Benitez's argument that away from home, where Liverpool have scored just once, from a penalty, in the Premiership, they have created more chances sounded redundant. Dirk Kuyt made the bar shiver on 16 minutes but that was as close as they got until Peter Crouch headed straight at Petr Cech in injury time.
The deciding moment came in the 41st minute when Lampard's cross from the right was chested down by Drogba with his back to goal. There did not seem to be many options with Jamie Carragher in close attendance but Drogba turned and struck the ball in one movement, beating Jose Reina at his right post.
Mourinho sacrificed Andrei Shevchenko shortly after Ballack's dismissal, to leave Drogba a lone striker. It was a smart decision and considering how Abram-ovich rates Shevchenko, a brave one too.
Shevchenko does not seem to have started in earnest. The Chelsea manager admitted that he has not been completely satisfied by his £31m signing.
"I know you want more from him, I want more from him and he wants more from himself," Mourinho said. "But he is happy and one day he will score goals and by the end I am sure he will finish among the Premiership's top four strikers. He is an absolutely beautiful player - it will come for him."
At Chelsea, however, it will have to come fast from Shevchenko. The greatest golfer in the world may not be a regular at Stamford Bridge but even he will have recognised that when the Premiership champions come good they are formidable, and in third place, level on 12 points with Manchester United, they are now in familiar territory.
Goal: Drogba (41) 1-0.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Boulahrouz (Ferreira, 70), Terry, Carvalho, A Cole; Essien, Ballack, Makelele, Lampard; Drogba (Kalou, 90), Shevchenko (Robben, 65). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Mikel.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Warnock (Aurelio, 54); Pennant, Sissoko (Zenden, 67), Alonso, Gerrard; Kuyt, Bellamy (Crouch, 78). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hyypia.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire)
Booked: Chelsea Boulahrouz, Drogba, Cech. Liverpool Warnock, Sissoko.
Sent off: Ballack.
Man of the match: Drogba.
Attendance: 41,882.Reuse content