Matteo in a league of his own

Liverpool 5 Chelsea 1
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The Independent Online
Despite a Chelsea capitulation of the kind that could lead to Serie A's export licence being revoked, there is still an Italian name in the team lording it over the Premiership today. Not one they will recognise in the new republic of Padania, or which fetched billions of lira, although Dominic Matteo has time and talent on his side.

Matteo, born in Scotland of English parents and Italian grandparents, was in a northern league of his own as Liverpool extended their unbeaten record and shredded Chelsea's. Roy Evans, normally reluctant to single out individuals, acknowledged as much afterwards. "Dominic has stood up to some very different strikers in the past few weeks and come out looking like a player," the Liverpool manager said. "He played in my first match [at Norwich two and a half years ago] and we waited and waited for him to mature. Last year, we must have had 30 offers to buy him or take him on loan, but we refused them all because we felt he had something which he's now showing."

Perverse as it might appear to nominate a back player after a day when Patrik Berger scored twice on his full debut, this was a scoreline which, if not quite lying, was economical with the truth. Before and after Robbie Fowler's opener, Liverpool were forced on to the back foot by touch football played at breakneck speed.

That half-time became an occasion for all-Scouse-and-trousers triumphalism rather than a respite was largely due to Matteo. Loping into midfield like a latterday Alan Hansen, he was clattered by that supposed model of Continental sophistication, Frank Leboeuf, though not before he had released Berger to double the lead.

The moment set in train a Chelsea collapse as alarming as their early ascendancy has been impressive. For Ruud Gullit, the goal made by Matteo was the turning point, after which "something snapped" in his team. While their fans sang defiantly of keeping the blue flag flying, some players were raising a white one.

Roberto Di Matteo disappeared like a Scottish bishop. Gianluca Vialli cut a petulant figure, being fortunate to avoid dismissal for throwing the ball away after he had already been cautioned and seeming more interested in trading insults with the Liverpool bench. Chocolate may now officially be good for you, but no amount of tactical tinkering could disguise Gullit's surfeit of soft centres.

The crucial difference between the sides was that Liverpool worked much harder when their opponents had possession. Yet they were not at their best, which makes the result an even greater indictment of Chelsea, and it was honesty rather than false modesty that led Evans to say he thought there was still room for improvement.

Steve McManaman, in particular, had an off-day, perhaps a delayed reaction to his summer exertions with England. Nor should Liverpool supporters get carried away with the idea that Berger is the ideal foil for Fowler. The Czech, simultaneously graceful and muscular, plays deeper than Stan Collymore, and his long-term role may be as John Barnes' successor.

Matteo, meanwhile, is keeping out Neil Ruddock and John Scales. Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, must have been heartened to see someone so adept at operating in the back three he favours, notwithstanding the trip on Mark Hughes that led to Chelsea's no-consolation goal.

So is Matteo ready to step up from Under-21 level? "I don't pick the England team" said Evans, "but he can certainly defend and play when he's got the ball. Now he has to do it over a season, not just eight games."

Goals: Fowler (15) 1-0, Berger (42) 2-0, Myers og (45) 3-0, Berger (49) 4-0, Leboeuf og (56) 5-0; Leboeuf pen (85) 5-1.

Liverpool (3-5-1-1): James; Wright, Matteo, Babb; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, McManaman, Bjornebye; Berger (Redknapp, 78); Fowler. Substitutes not used: Collymore, Ruddock, L Jones, Warner (gk).

Chelsea (4-3-3): Hitchcock; Petrescu, Leboeuf, Clarke, Myers (Duberry h/t); Burley, Di Matteo, Wise; Vialli, Hughes, Morris (Spencer, h/t). Substututes not used: Lee, Nicholls, Grodas (gk).

Referee: S. Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Liverpool: Wright, Babb, Matteo. Chelsea: Clarke, Duberry, Vialli, Wise.

Man of the match: Matteo.

Attendance: 40,739.

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