Victory still leaves Ranieri baffled

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The Independent Football

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Chelsea FC. Three days after being humbled by the unregarded Swiss side St Gallen in the Uefa Cup, they overcame that particular shock yesterday to outwit and outthink a Liverpool side that failed to show any of their supposed championship potential. Claudio Ranieri, the newly-appointed Chelsea coach, is supposed to be a tactical master although the result in Zurich failed to prove that particular point.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Chelsea FC. Three days after being humbled by the unregarded Swiss side St Gallen in the Uefa Cup, they overcame that particular shock yesterday to outwit and outthink a Liverpool side that failed to show any of their supposed championship potential. Claudio Ranieri, the newly-appointed Chelsea coach, is supposed to be a tactical master although the result in Zurich failed to prove that particular point.

Back in the hurly-burly of the Premiership he did more than enough, on the occasion of his first home match in charge, to show that he can cut it with the likes of his Liverpool counterpart Gérard Houllier.

The Italian produced surprises in both selection and tactics to baffle Liverpool and end their seven-match unbeaten run. By contrast, this win was Chelsea's first in the Premiership since the opening day of the season. However, with that Swiss miss still in mind, Ranieri declared he is still learning about his new charges. He said: "Which is the real Chelsea? To be or not to be, that is the question? I would like to know."

Ranieri decided to give Eidur Gudjohnsen his full debut and the appearance of the Icelander was the key to disturbing Liverpool's equilibrium. One of the now-departed Gianluca Vialli's summer signings, he has been on the sidelines but he rewarded Ranieri's faith with an intelligent performance across the midfield and also picked up the third goal with a good finish to end Liverpool's token resistance.

Both teams had made wholesale changes after their Uefa Cup games on Thursday, but it was Chelsea who readjusted the quickest to their new shape, which included five men in midfield to outnumber Liverpool's lethargic-looking four.

Liverpool have never won here in the Premiership and going two down after 11 minutes meant they were not going to alter that terrible statistic. Houllier said he felt that there was something of a curse over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and on the evidence of the first goal he is right.

After 10 minutes Gianfranco Zola swung in a corner but somehow Sander Westerveld managed to punch the ball into his own net, under minimal pressure from Dennis Wise.

Wise was one of those absent from the European defeat and, with his pride apparently hurt, he was in spiky mood, engaging in a personal duel with his England team-mate Steven Gerrard, which ended with both receiving cautions in the second half.

With six days to go until England play Germany, and several of his squad involved, Kevin Keegan must have winced at some of the challenges going on all over the pitch.

A minute after Westerveld's fumble, Chelsea were two up, when Gudjohnsen slipped the ball to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and the Dutchman made no mistake, making a mockery of Chelsea's position in the relegation zone where they had been at the beginning of the day.

With Michael Owen and Emile Heskey - a possible strike partnership at Wembley on Saturday - looking as ponderous as the rest of their team-mates, it was a worrying sight for supporters of Liverpool as well as the England side. But Owen provided glimmers of hope for Liverpool, trying his luck with speculative shots before another of Liverpool's England contingent had a chance five minutes after the break. Heskey slipped the ball into Nick Barmby's path but the midfielder could only poke his shot past the post.

With 71 minutes gone and Liverpool pressing forward, a Chelsea counter-attack finished off the game. Stéphane Henchoz failed to get enough weight on his back-pass and Gudjohnsen pounced and slipped round Westerveld.

The result left Houllier in no doubt as to his side's title ambitions this season. Blaming mistakes for the first and third goals, he said candidly: "We gifted them two goals and you can't expect to win a game of this calibre when you do that. We are not at the level of the teams at the top of the Premiership. We are still a young team."

Now all that remains is for the real Chelsea to stand up.

Goals: Westerveld og (10) 1-0; Hasselbaink (11) 2-0; Gudjohnsen (71) 3-0.

Chelsea (3-5-1-1): De Goey; Leboeuf, Desailly, Melchiot; Le Saux, Dalla Bona (Morris, 76), Wise, Ferrer (Babayaro, 72); Gudjohnsen; Hasselbaink (Flo, 81) Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Aleksidze.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Westerveld; Ziege, Henchoz, Hyypia, Babbel; Gerrard, Carragher (Heggem, 66), Hamann, Barmby (Fowler, 66); Owen, Heskey Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Murphy, Traoré.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury). Bookings: Chelsea: Wise. Liverpool: Gerrard.

Man of the match: Gudjohnsen

Attendance: 34,966.

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