Chelsea 1 Liverpool 2: Sissoko stands tall in the face of Mourinho's new muddled army

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The Independent Online

When Andrei Shevchenko was sold the dream of Chelsea's new football utopia by Roman Abramovich, it cannot have been much like that which he experienced in Cardiff yesterday afternoon. The Premiership champions seem to have found winning so easy they have decided to reinvent themselves for the hell of it, but embracing long-ball football will not give them the army of converts their ambition craves.

Yesterday it was not even enough to win them one of English football's last great irrelevant trophies when Peter Crouch stole in at the back post to nod in the Community Shield winner 10 minutes from time. No one, not even Jose Mourinho, was about to deny that Liverpool were the more deserving winners, and if this match is the great cryptic clue to the way the rest of the season will unfold then it looked far more promising for Rafael Benitez's team.

Piece together the fragments of an afternoon where nothing of any great significance was at stake and the pattern is clear. Benitez's side looked pacey on the wings with Mark Gonzalez and Jermaine Pennant and, in Momo Sissoko, had the match's outstanding player in midfield. Chelsea looked for the long ball without fail and, while no one doubts they have the players eventually to make this approach work, it will not be a season of great beauty at Stamford Bridge.

This new dawn must have taken some adjustment for Shevchenko, who chased down plenty of long balls before, on 43 minutes, he eventually cradled the best of the lot from Frank Lampard on his chest and slipped the ball past Jose Reina. Even amid the incoherence of Chelsea's new approach, the Ukrainian striker was the pre-eminent player in blue, comfortable and strong on the ball when he was provided with it.

So what has happened to the width that made Chelsea the home of four of the world's best wingers last season? Mourinho said after the match he had decided it was time for a change, although fiddling with a team that have swept all before them in the Premiership for the past two seasons is a risky business. If he is being leant upon to play Shevchenko, and if this system does fail, then it will be some irony that a player this good was part of Chelsea's undoing.

But it is early days yet and Mourinho explained away some of the more alarming new problems with another reminder of how little time he had to prepare his team and what an outrage it was that his squad would be taken from him this week for international friendlies. Michael Ballack's day ended on 25 minutes when he appeared to damage his left hip stretching for the ball, although his introduction to English football was made particularly unhappy by Sissoko, who hustled and dispossessed him enough to lure the German into a bad-tempered tackle that earned a booking.

Ballack, Shevchenko, the new England captain John Terry and Frank Lampard - albeit still straining for form: it would seem sacrilegious to doubt this team but they were upstaged for much of a first half in which John Arne Riise gave his side the lead after nine minutes. When the surprise substitutes Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and then Craig Bellamy came on in the second half it was Liverpool rather than Chelsea who looked like the team with the endless supplies of talent.

Their 11th meeting since Benitez and Mourinho took charge two years ago was the least important of them all - even the 2005 Carling Cup final meant more - but they kept up that tiresome charade of refusing to shake hands at the end. These two foreign managers seem desperate to retire this old English tradition, although the roots of the dispute have long ceased to be important. Of the 11 matches, Benitez has now won three to Mourinho's five.

Against Sissoko, Lampard looked out of sorts before the 17th minute, when he picked up a booking for kicking out at his former team-mate Bolo Zenden, a foul that was spiteful, unnecessary and suggested a man ill at ease with his own form. He hammered one free-kick deep into the Liverpool fans. But then it was Lampard's delicate through-ball that set Shevchenko in on goal two minutes before half-time.

Riise's goal was an unusual effort that began in humble circumstances and ended up a memorable kind of strike. He picked the loose ball up from a Chelsea corner and ran from deep in his own half before beating Carlo Cudicini. The notion of shooting only seemed to dawn on Riise late, when he redirected his run down the wing on goal and hit a low shot that the Italian goalkeeper should have stopped.

An absence of pace in attack was what Benitez identified as key to Liverpool's failings last season and certainly Gonzalez is no Antonio Nunez, the Spaniard who was the most abject winger Anfield has endured in the modern era. The Chilean crossed for Luis Garcia and Peter Crouch just one minute before Shevchenko's goal and the two Liverpool players combined to put in a lame shot that Cudicini tapped over the bar.

Five minutes after the break Garcia played in Zenden but the Dutchman, converted to a central midfielder for the day, failed to score. Gradually Liverpool took hold of the game, with a great roar for Gerrard as he came on to impose himself. Bellamy's pace embarrassed Terry into a crude body charge.

It was a fine ball from another new signing, the substitute Fabio Aurelio, that picked out Bellamy on the left with 10 minutes left. His back-post cross found Crouch, who beat Terry to the ball and headed past Cudicini. This, according to Mourinho, was Chelsea at just "50 per cent" of their potential and he fears that after international week they may be "40 per cent" to face Manchester City on Sunday. But rarely has he been so relaxed about what he seems to regard as another anti-Chelsea conspiracy on the fixture list.

In this fixture last year Chelsea came to Cardiff, swept aside Arsenal and then did much the same to the rest of the Premiership. One year later life is not so easy, although it will take more than this to learn whether the gap has closed. Yet even with Shevchenko, Chelsea do not seem to be making things any easier for themselves.

Goals: Riise (9) 0-1; Shevchenko (43) 1-1; Crouch (80) 1-2.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cudicini; Geremi (Bridge, 53), Terry, Carvalho, Ferreira (Mikel, 82); Essien; Lampard, Ballack (Kalou, 25), Robben (Diarra, 63); Drogba (Wright-Phillips, 71), Shevchenko. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Mancienne.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise; Pennant (Alonso, 59), Sissoko, Zenden (Gerrard, 59), Gonzalez (Aurelio, 56); Crouch (Sinama-Pongolle 88), Luis Garcia (Bellamy, 69). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hyypia.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Chelsea Ballack, Lampard, Diarra; Liverpool Alonso.

Man of the match: Sissoko.

Attendance: 56,275.

Rafa's cups of cheer

Although Jose Mourinho has the better Premiership record against Liverpool, Rafael Benitez has a hold on Chelsea when it comes to Cup matches, allowing his London rivals just one win in seven games.

* YESTERDAY (Community Shield)
Liverpool 2 (Riise 9, Crouch 80)
Chelsea 1 (Shevchenko 43)

* 22 APR 2006 FA Cup semi-final
Chelsea 1 (Drogba 70)
Liverpool 2 (Riise 21, Garcia 53)

* 6 DEC 2005 European Cup group game
Chelsea 0
Liverpool 0

* 28 SEPT 2005 European Cup group game
Liverpool 0
Chelsea 0

* 3 MAY 2005 European Cup semi-final second leg
Liverpool 1 (Garcia 4)
Chelsea 0 (Liverpool won on aggregate)

* 27 APRIL 2005 European Cup semi-final first leg
Chelsea 0
Liverpool 0
* 27 FEB 2005 League Cup final (aet)
Liverpool 2 (Riise 1, Nunez 113)
Chelsea 3 (Gerrard 79 og, Drogba 107, Kezman 112)

* TOTAL
Played 6
Liverpool 3
Draws 3
Chelsea 1

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