It was not the fire-breathing classic that these two sides contested in the second leg of the European Cup semi-final last season but then we may never witness the noise and the tension of that occasion again. Instead Liverpool, who had two convincing penalty appeals turned down by the Italian referee, forced Chelsea deeper and deeper back into their own half as the game developed, inflicting upon Mourinho's side the stifling restrictions that they have imposed on the rest of the Premiership.
Where Liverpool failed was in dealing the final, decisive blow to Chelsea who were held together by John Terry in his typically inspirational manner. The noise of the Kop, their songs about Istanbul and the replica tinfoil European Cups that were waved in the direction of the away end were a reminder of the supremacy that this club, above all others in the Premiership, still feels it holds over the league's runaway leaders. In Europe, Liverpool are still Chelsea's masters; come Sunday, the roles will be exchanged.
When Chelsea return to Anfield in three days' time the imperative to win will be much more serious for Liverpool if they are to maintain a viable Premiership title challenge. Then they will have to gamble a greater stake on victory, although Benitez was by no means cautious last night. His team's ceaseless possession forced Mourinho to change formation, reinforce his defence and endure a nervous finale to an uncomfortable evening.
Yet so many waves of Liverpool attacks produced so few genuine attempts upon Petr Cech's goal. Liverpool's most promising chances to score were their two penalty appeals rejected by the referee, Massimo De Santis. The first, on 52 minutes, came when Luis Garcia burst between Paulo Ferreira and Terry towards the same end where he scored his controversial winning goal in last season's semi-final second leg. Dragged back by the Portuguese full-back just enough to allow Cech to claim the ball, Garcia was denied a penalty.
The second appeal was much less doubtful and came three minutes before the hour when Jamie Carragher powered a header from Steven Gerrard's corner towards goal and William Gallas, who had just shoved Djibril Cissé out of his path, handled the ball. The decision to reject it was, in Benitez's words, "unbelievable", from a Spanish coach who buries his opinions and emotions deep, that is as severe a condemnation of an official as we are likely to hear.
At the start of the evening, as the two sides warmed up, Benitez and Mourinho had stood on the touchline together - hands in pockets, expensive shoes toeing the slick green turf - deep in conversation. Like two ambitious young dukes discussing the division of an empire it was a remarkably amicable conversation, given the doubt that Mourinho had earlier poured on Liverpool's legitimacy as European champions. Unusually for him, Mourinho seemed to be doing most of the listening.
No team, up until now, has quite matched his Chelsea side like Benitez's Liverpool on the big occasion and the same was the case this time. Peter Crouch's battle with Terry was absorbing - the reach and touch of those long legs against the sheer force of the Chelsea captain's will - while Gerrard and Frank Lampard both seized on any loose possession. Only in the directors' box did the comparison seem unfair - the old money of the personal fortune of the Liverpool chairman, David Moores, rendered measly compared with the £7.6bn Roman Abramovich banked yesterday for the sale of his oil company.
Liverpool could take comfort from the absence of a significant contribution from either Damien Duff or Arjen Robben. In the first half, the Irishman was caught by an unpleasant studs-raised challenge from Garcia, not a midfield enforcer in anyone's book, but he failed to turn two lofted balls over the head of Djimi Traoré into meaningful attacks
Similarly, Robben came to life just once, running at Sami Hyypia before stepping effortlessly past the centre-half and driving in a shot that Jose Reina did well to touch over the bar. Liverpool's best chance came on 19 minutes when Crouch headed down a cross into Hyypia's stride and the defender appeared to have been subjected to the slightest of trips by Didier Drogba as he miscued his shot.
In the second half, Mourinho switched to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation with the introduction of Hernan Crespo, but Chelsea found themselves clamped back in their own half and controlled in a manner that no other team has been able to force upon them this season. Xabi Alonso was outstanding in his distribution and managed one dangerous shot in the 82nd minute when Florent Sinama-Pongolle's cross was recycled to the Spanish midfielder on the edge of the area.
The game's last act was Gerrard's free-kick over the bar. By then Liverpool were encamped in the Chelsea half and whether they can occupy the same territory come Sunday will have a serious effect on how this Premiership season unfolds.
Liverpool (4-1-3-1-1): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Traoré; Hamann; Garcia, Gerrard, Alonso; Cissé (Sinama-Pongolle, 78); Crouch. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Riise, Josemi, Warnock, Zenden, Potter.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas; Makelele; Robben (Wright-Phillips, 65), Lampard, Essien, Duff (Crespo, 75); Drogba (Huth, 90). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Cole, Geremi, Gudjohnsen.
Referee: M De Santis (Italy).
Man-for-man marking: How they rated at Anfield last night. By Glenn Moore
* JOSE REINA
Flapped at Chelsea's first corner but brave punched clearance from Essien and decent save from Robben drive restored confidence. 6/10
* STEVE FINNAN
Dealt so effectively with Robben's threat the Dutch flyer was substituted with 25 minutes remaining. 8
* SAMI HYYPIA
Poor header gifted Lampard early chance but should immediately have won penalty when felled by Drogba. 6
* JAMIE CARRAGHER
One lapse apart, he gave his customary sound defensive display and strong 55th-minute header might have brought a penalty when it struck Gallas's arm. 7
* DJIMI TRAORE
Impressive in defence and on the ball. Snuffed out Duff and was untroubled by Wright-Phillips. 8
* DIETMAR HAMANN
Competent if uninspiring. Held position well and proved a good foil for Alonso and Gerrard. 5
* LUIS GARCIA
Anonymous for 51 minutes then eased past Ferreira but too easily tugged back. Reverted back into the shadows. 3
* STEVEN GERRARD
Quiet by his usual standards. Makelele kept a close watch and a series of ankle taps may have dulled his edge. 5
* XABI ALONSO
Caught in possession and booked after seven minutes. Thereafter classy as he switched the play. Never shirked a tackle despite yellow card, though perhaps lucky not to get another. 8
* DJIBRIL CISSE
Utterly wasted on the flank where Gallas was equal to his pace. Withdrawn. 4.
* PETER CROUCH
Fine lay-off for Hyypia's penalty shout but otherwise well marshalled by Terry and Carvalho. 5
* FLORENT SINAMA-PONGOLLE (for Cissé, 78) Little time to shine but turned Lampard beautifully to illustrate potential.
* PETR CECH
Hard to judge as Liverpool so rarely penetrated defence. His composure always has a positive effect though. 6/10
* PAULO FERREIRA
Escaped censure when he pulled back Garcia the one time he threatened to outwit him. Did not go forward often. 7
* RICARDO CARVALHO
Committed a string of fouls but managed to avoid a yellow card. Otherwise good defensively. 6
* JOHN TERRY
Missed header led to Hyypia penalty claim. Then impressive as ever as Crouch was kept well shackled. 7
* WILLIAM GALLAS
Relieved at escaping punishment when his arm got in the way of Carragher's header. Had Cissé under control. 6
* CLAUDE MAKELELE
Booked for clattering Gerrard. More careful after that but just as effective as England's action man was kept quiet. Distribution not as effective as usual. 7
* ARJEN ROBBEN
Only once threatened, when he escaped full-backs to ghost by Hyypia, but he shot too close to Reina. Booked for dissent. 4
* FRANK LAMPARD
Booked for poor challenge on Cissé. Quiet night and was outshone by Alonso. Embarrassingly beaten by Sinama-Pongolle late on. Poor free-kicks. 5
* MICHAEL ESSIEN
A powerful presence but never remotely justified £24m fee. 6
* DAMIEN DUFF
Wasted clever Drogba flick early on and it did not get any better. 3
* DIDIER DROGBA
Willing but too often careless in possession and should have con-ceded a 20th-minute penalty. 3
* SHAUN WRIGHT-PHILLIPS (for Robben, 65) Energetic, but little impact 5.
* HERNAN CRESPO (for Duff, 75) Offside only time he saw ball.
* ROBERT HUTH (for Drogba, 90)Reuse content