Ultimately it was not a question of who is the arch-exponent of route-one football but who gets the best of their towering centre-forward with the ball on the floor. The answer was as unequivocal as the scoreline.
Liverpool have been able to offer consistency, squad size and injuries as reasons for why their European hold on Chelsea has not transmitted into the Premiership but as they were forced to put their championship credentials into a bleak perspective, they had to accept that - in terms of utilising the assets of their target-man - they are still in Jose Mourinho's shadow. The pressure was on both Peter Crouch and Didier Drogba to illustrate the range of their talents, but in contrast to the major contributor to Chelsea's victory, the England striker never had a hope of winning that personal battle as a result of Liverpool's lack of width.
The line between statement and intent has become increasingly blurred as both these teams seek to defend their relatively similar styles. "Crouch has been playing well," said Rafael Benitez in his programme notes. "Now we have to learn how to support him quicker." Yet the one change the Liverpool manager made to Wednesday's starting line-up was to remove Djibril Cissé, and replace him with John Arne Riise.
Arguably Benitez's emphasis is on supply rather than numbers, and given the options open to him the temptation for directness is understandable. The fact Liverpool do not possess a fit, custom-built wide man is not an indication of the manager's philosophy but Luis Figo's preference for Internazionale, Benfica's inflated valuation of Simao Sabrosa and the Chilean international Mark Gonzalez's failure to secure a work permit. It is an anomaly Liverpool plan to address in January; in the meantime it is a case of make-do-and-mend for the European champions and for Crouch.
Within the opening 60 seconds he was the intended target for a long free-kick and a deep throw, and it was indicative of the lack of support from Liverpool that Mourinho deployed the smaller of his centre-halves, Ricardo Carvalho, on Crouch with John Terry free to deal with the scraps. Crouch's first inviting cross of any description came after half an hour and from a full-back, Steve Finnan, and not until Florent Sinama-Pongolle's introduction did he have an assistant.
Drogba may have spent a similar percentage of his game in the air as Crouch, but the service he received on the ground was vastly superior and reflected in his contribution to all four goals.Reuse content