"Roll up, roll up, come and see the amazing English Premier League: the greatest illusion on earth".
That will not be the hook if and when the Premier League goes global but it ought to be. Persuading the world that a match like this is the must-see entertainment of the 21st century is the best piece of salesmanship since Lake Havasu City bought the wrong London Bridge. However, the marketing men must wish this match had been played behind closed doors rather than broadcast around the world. Any prospective host tuning in yesterday afternoon will have had second thoughts.
This was not, with respect, Derby v Fulham, it was half of the "big four" in action with much at stake for both. The result was a dire 90 minutes which suggested the withering criticism of English footballers' technique and passing by Franco Baldini, Fabio Capello's right-hand man, could be considerably extended. Compared to this mind-numbing exhibition of wayward passes, sloppy control, aimless dribbling and poor shooting, England's midweek performance was a masterclass.
"It was not an entertaining game, that is for sure," admitted Avram Grant, Chelsea's manager. "We tried to play football. We had three forward players, two midfielders who know how to score goals, and two full-backs who like to attack."
The intriguing aspect was those two midfielders. This was the first time Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack had played together this season and the balance did not look right. To accommodate them Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has been a revelation since being moved inside, was shunted back on to the wing where, starved of service, he was anonymous and ultimately withdrawn. With Joe Cole impressing only sporadically, and Nicolas Anelka having an off-day, Chelsea wasted the opportunity to take advantage of Manchester United's home defeat earlier in the day.
Already on a good run of form, and with players coming back to fitness and from the African Nations Cup, a sixth straight home win would have moved them within three points of leaders Arsenal. Instead, Chelsea had only the consolation of knowing their unbeaten home league run will have exceeded four years by the time they play Derby at Stamford Bridge next month.
Liverpool's travelling support will have savoured United's derby defeat but their players, all too well aware of the chasm in points that separate them from the league summit, were more concerned at being pushed into seventh place by Manchester City. Suddenly the prospect loomed of missing out even on the Uefa Cup.
"I think we have got to be realistic, we are too far behind Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea," admitted Jamie Carragher. "We are battling with Everton, Aston Villa and Manchester City until the end of the season for that fourth spot."
An away point was thus welcomed, especially as it had to be earned without Fernando Torres, injured on international duty in midweek. Rafael Benitez thus had to pair the increasingly hapless Dirk Kuyt with Peter Crouch, the boyhood Chelsea fan last seen in these parts receiving a red card after attempting to scythe John Obi Mikel in half.
Whilst that pairing was forced upon him the odd decision to play Steven Gerrard on the right wing, with Leiva Lucas in central midfield, was all his. Gerrard did occasionally trade places with Kuyt, in fact, he played all over the park as usual, but it nevertheless looked an odd use of resources given the presence of three wide players on the bench.
Whatever the personnel these two teams tend to cancel one another out and this match was no exception. As Carragher said: "Normally we come here to stop them playing but don't do much in attack ourselves, but with Peter [Crouch] up front we had a few chances."
Liverpool were marginally the more fluent in the opening hour with the only chances falling to Crouch. In the 18th-minute he headed down a deep cross from John Arne Riise to Ryan Babel, but volleyed the return pass wide. He also headed a Gerrard cross into the arms of Petr Cech.
Chelsea failed to create a single chance but could have had a 25th-minute penalty when a rare flowing move culminated in Javier Mascherano checking Joe Cole inside the box. Mike Riley, well placed, waved play on. "It was 100 per cent a penalty," grumbled Grant.
The second period remained equally soporific until Mascherano – who only returned on Friday from playing in Los Angeles for Argentina against Guatemala – tired. Chelsea then upped the tempo and Pepe Reina, having saved Joe Cole's cross-shot, was relieved to see Michael Ballack chip Ashley Cole's cross wide. In the final minute Liverpool could have stolen victory but Kuyt was too hesitant to profit from Gerrard's pass.
Justice was thus served for neither side deserved three points.
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, A Cole; Makelele; Lampard (Mikel, 71), Ballack; Wright-Phillips (Malouda, 63), Anelka, J Cole (Pizarro, 85). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ben Haim.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Skrtel, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Mascherano, Lucas, Babel (Pennant, 71); Kuyt, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Itandje (gk), Kewell, Benayoun, San Jose.
Referee: M Riley (Leeds)
Booked: Chelsea Belletti, Carvalho, Alex. Liverpool Babel, Riise.
Man of the match: Mascherano
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