Chelsea's Russian revolution dawned with the storming of one of English football's great winter palaces. Since Stalin was conducting show trials in the Soviet Union, Chelsea had won only one league match at Anfield and the way a team supposedly made up of rank strangers performed was ominous enough to make you wonder what they will achieve deeper into the new season.
They overcame their first test of Roman Abramovich's rule with the kind of quality not normally associated with a collection of expensively assembled millionaires; character. Having seen Michael Owen equalise with a penalty which was initially missed but then retaken, Chelsea regrouped and drove on. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, one of those whose place is supposedly most under threat, was fed a delightful ball from Frank Lampard, effortlessly forced his way past Jamie Carragher and buried his shot into the right-hand corner of Jerzy Dudek's net.
Chelsea will not become an easier team to beat. John Terry, who excelled in dealing with a Liverpool side which showed more aggression and flair than is usual under Gérard Houllier, thought it might take three or four months for a team which had made seven changes from the one beaten at Anfield in October to gel properly. On yesterday's evidence, this may be unduly pessimistic. If there was ever a time to play this expensively remodelled club, it is surely now.
"This gives us a lot of confidence," reflected the Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri. "In the first 25 minutes we made a lot of mistakes because everything is new to the players. But we must continue because we are not yet a team. That happens when you change a lot of players but we showed character, heart and soul."
With the exception of Parma's Adrian Mutu, whose international clearance had not been processed in time, all the half-dozen lured to Stamford Bridge by Abramovich in one of the most frenzied summers any Premiership club can have known were on display. Outstanding performers such as William Gallas and Hasselbaink were relegated to the bench while Mario Melchiot did not feature at all.
Of the newcomers, Juan Sebastian Veron left the deepest impression and not just because of his opening goal. While Cristiano Ronaldo's debut at Old Trafford has had everyone at Manchester United chorusing how little the Argentinian will be missed, yesterday at Anfield suggested Sir Alex Ferguson's defence of him might be solidly grounded.
As Liverpool controlled the opening exchanges, Veron was, as he often is, anonymous. However, as soon as Ranieri, who laughingly referred to himself as a "tinkerman", swapped Damien Duff to his usual position on the left and pushed Jesper Gronkjaer on to the right flank, Chelsea broke through, although had Stéphane Henchoz not slipped as Gronkjaer's cross whistled into the area, Veron would not have been given such a glaring chance which he did not spurn.
There was nothing fortuitous about the pass which exposed a Liverpool defence hovering uncertainly near the halfway line and that sent Eidur Gudjohnsen clean through on goal. Unlike the Icelandic striker, Jerzy Dudek kept his nerve and stood his ground. The hesitancy of the shot may have encouraged Ranieri to replace him with Hasselbaink at the interval.
There were, incidentally, many on Merseyside who would have questioned Dudek's presence in the Liverpool goal ahead of Chris Kirkland, although a stunning full-length save from Frank Lampard, every bit as good as Carlo Cudicini's from Danny Murphy in the opening 90 seconds, vindicated Houllier's selection.
By the time the final whistle ensured Liverpool had suffered their first opening-day defeat of the season at Anfield since 1962, Houllier was using no less than five attackers. Nevertheless, with Steven Gerrard suspended and Dietmar Hamann, who in Gerrard's words does Liverpool's "dirty work", absent, Houllier reflected that towards the end they left too many areas uncovered, an error Hasselbaink punished.
"I feel sorry for my players because they created a lot of chances," said the Liverpool manager. He added tartly that he thought Chelsea carried rather a lot of luck.
This was never more in evidence than when Wayne Bridge, under no real pressure, appeared to handle a deep cross from El-Hadji Diouf, which the referee, Steve Bennett, left unpunished. The England left-back did not escape for long, bringing down Diouf so clumsily that a penalty was a routine decision. Michael Owen ran up to face Cudicini and the Kop and tamely steered his spot-kick wide. However, the linesman had noticed the Chelsea keeper advance before Owen's boot struck the ball and the kick was duly and successfully retaken.
As Owen missed, Abram-ovich and his assorted friends in the directors' box had hugged each other but when the second shot struck the roof of the net to equalise you wondered if the Russian should be told money cannot buy luck. But on this evidence, £75m buys plenty of grit.
Goals: Veron (25) 0-1; Owen (79) 1-1; Hasselbaink (86) 1-2.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 7, Carragher 5, Henchoz 5 (Finnan 70), Hyypia 6, Riise 5, Murphy 5, Biscan 6 (Baros 4, 70), Kewell 7, Cheyrou 4 (Diouf 6, 55), Heskey 4, Owen 6. Substitutes not used: Le Tallec, Kirkland (gk).
Chelsea (4-5-1): Cudicini 7, Johnson 5 (Gallas 6, 73), Desailly 7, Terry 8, Bridge 4, Duff 5 (Cole 5, 75), Lampard 6, Geremi 5, Veron 8, Gronkjaer 7, Gudjohnsen 4 (Hasselbaink 5, h-t). Substitutes not used: Forssell, Ambrosio (gk).
Referee: S.Bennett (Orpington) 4.
Bookings: Liverpool: Biscan, Henchoz, Diouf. Chelsea: Lampard.
Man of the match: Veron.
Attendance: 44,082.Reuse content