Cole turns goal-poacher to keep Blues within striking distance

By Glenn Moore
Click to follow
The Independent Football

If Chelsea are to finish ahead of Arsenal this season, it will not be on goal difference. Eight games into the season the differential is already a dozen goals but Jose Mourinho, as one might expect, is unconcerned.

If Chelsea are to finish ahead of Arsenal this season, it will not be on goal difference. Eight games into the season the differential is already a dozen goals but Jose Mourinho, as one might expect, is unconcerned.

"Arsenal are playing beautifully and scoring goals and goals and goals," said the Chelsea manager after yesterday's victory over a leaden Liverpool, "and we are still only two points behind them. In one weekend it can all change."

The weekend in prospect is fast approaching. On 23 October Chelsea host Blackburn Rovers. The following day, Arsenal go to Old Trafford. By then Mourinho will hope to have Mateja Kezman and Adrian Mutu fit, having been reduced, by a muscular injury which could rule out Didier Drogba for a month, to one fit forward.

It is an ironic situation for the world's wealthiest club but Mourinho need not fret. Drogba's departure forced him to play Joe Cole and Damien Duff behind Eidur Gudjohnsen and the result was a Chelsea performance of greater attacking variety than they have produced for most of this season. It is worth persevering with. Of the alternatives, Kezman is a flat-track bully, yet to hint at repeating in England the goals he scored in the Netherlands; Mutu will be heading back to Serie A as soon as the transfer window opens.

Cole's goal, from a well-worked free-kick after 63 minutes, took the points, but it was Duff who had stretched Liverpool to breaking point. Rafael Benitez, alarmed at the feeble display in Athens on Wednesday, had dropped five players and was rewarded with a performance that lacked nothing for effort. Duff and Cole, however, showed more hunger than anyone in red and adorned it with quality.

Liverpool were not helped by an adventurous but lopsided formation which Benitez, at best, will have had only two training sessions to work on. Josemi, at right-back, was left vulnerable with only Luis Garcia ahead of him.

Duff eagerly took advantage, giving the Spaniard a torrid afternoon. He first opened Liverpool up in the second minute only to be thwarted by a brave save from the recalled Chris Kirkland. The young English keeper, who might be the national No 1 by now but for his litany of injuries, took a blow from Jamie Carragher in making the save but recovered to underline his promise.

He was grateful, nevertheless, to another off-day from Lampard, whose loss of finishing form is the main reason for Chelsea's lack of goals. He could have had a hat-trick between the 17th and 41st minutes but each time wasted good approach play from, respectively, Drogba, Gudjohnsen and Paulo Ferreira. Not that Liverpool were better, Cissé heading Harry Kewell's cross wide after 26 minutes and shooting over having worked himself into space after 37.

It seemed the breakthrough had finally come after 56 minutes when Lampard's corner reached Cole beyond the far post. But after Kirkland parried, Kewell headed off the line. The chance aped a first-half opportunity for Ricardo Carvalho which was bravely blocked by Djimi Traoré.

Both incidents revealed another flaw in Liverpool's much-criticised zonal-marking system, which had otherwise dealt well enough with a succession of corners and free-kicks. Players outside the six-yard box, who had not made attacking runs, were not being picked up. Lampard may be missing but he is thinking. After Alexei Smertin was fouled he played the free-kick short and low to Cole who steered it past Kirkland.

Benitez made attacking substitutions but Liverpool never looked like responding and Chelsea should have won more easily. Goals will come. In the meantime, Mourinho was again on the defensive - unlike, he insisted, his team.

"We win and we produce attacking football," he said. "The teams playing against us should receive more criticism than us. Liverpool came to get a point. As against Tottenham, we created a lot of chances. Liverpool had a shot by Cissé but nothing more. Nobody can say we do not play to win. It is true we do not score many goals, it is untrue to say we don't play attacking football." He then reminded Manchester United of football's bottom line: "We are scoring enough goals to win."

Goal: Cole (63) 1-0.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas; Makelele; Smertin (Tiago, 85), Lampard, Duff (Geremi, 82); Gudjohnsen, Drogba (Cole, 38). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Huth.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Kirkland; Josemi (Baros, 71), Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Diao (Hamann, 77), Alonso; Garcia (Finnan, 77), Kewell, Riise; Cissé. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Warnock.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffs).

Booking: Liverpool: Carragher.

Man of the match: Duff.

Attendance: 42,028.