There comes a moment in the lifetime of every modern Chelsea manager when he must go through that most crucial rite of passage: beating Liverpool. Carlo Ancelotti did it at the first time of asking yesterday and up in the stand, the emperor of Stamford Bridge will have liked what he saw.
That was Roman Abramovich, wearing a grey cardigan that looked like a throwback to the days of perestroika and watching a Chelsea team that looked like a throwback to their 2006 vintage. These are early days for Ancelotti – and it will be a while yet until they start singing his name at Stamford Bridge – but this was a bold statement from a new manager, the kind that makes even a bored oligarch sit up in his seat.
Chelsea had not beaten Liverpool in the Premier League for more than three years before yesterday and the record was starting to get embarrassing. All the usual taunts about five European Cups and Liverpool's glorious past that are thrown at Chelsea when they play this old enemy can weigh heavy on the bad days. But they were easily dismissed yesterday.
There was a certain symbolism to this game for Ancelotti given that his predecessor one removed, Luiz Felipe Scolari, lost this fixture in October last year and never recovered. His regime in ruins, Scolari was sacked four months later, another Chelsea manager who left the club nursing a grievance about the remarkable defiance Rafael Benitez's Liverpool have shown Chelsea during the Abramovich years.
But Scolari and his downfall is in the past. Ancelotti will have been more troubled by last week's defeat to Wigan Athletic and what that said about his players and their season. Yesterday his team was impeccably organised and although they did not dominate every part of this match they were more ruthless in front of goal, stronger in defence and, with Deco at the point of their midfield diamond, more creative in the midfield.
No question who won the battle of two of the league's most celebrated centre-forwards. Didier Drogba did not score yesterday but he made both of Chelsea's goals, bludgeoning his way past no less a defender than Jamie Carragher to make the second goal for Florent Malouda. Yes, there was a lot of the old nonsense from the Chelsea striker, a lot of complaining, but he was unstoppable when it mattered.
It was not the same for Fernando Torres who had one of those afternoons when he was forced to survive on half-chances and never looked like scoring from any of them. Early in the game he raked his studs down John Terry's leg long after the ball had gone, a rare lack of composure from the Liverpool striker that suggested he was not entirely happy and, from there on, he got no better.
Never write off Benitez. It has become an immutable law of English football but this time the wily old boy has strapped one arm behind his own back as he attempts to make a challenge for the title this season. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Liverpool can still win it with three defeats before the middle of October but it will not be simple. Chelsea will be a match for any team this season, and it is some consolation for Benitez that Manchester United and Arsenal are yet to play them.
It is a consistent refrain from the Liverpool manager that games are won and lost on the smallest of details. Never was he proved more correct than when Javier Mascherano dallied on the ball on the hour mark and lost it to Frank Lampard.
Lampard, industrious in a more defensive role, found Michael Essien, who found Deco, who found Drogba. Within seconds of Liverpool's Argentine midfielder losing the ball in the centre of midfield Drogba had picked out Nicolas Anelka at the back post for Chelsea's first goal. The balance of the game had changed in an instant and Liverpool were forced to commit more resources to attack in pursuit of an equaliser.
Until then, they had matched Chelsea for much of the game. But even with Ancelotti's side sitting back and allowing their opponents to attack them, Liverpool did not offer enough to open up a team as powerful as Chelsea. It takes something special to do that and from their players that can offer that spark – Torres, Steven Gerrard, even Yossi Benayoun – there was very little of note.
There was a spectacular tackle by Ashley Cole on Gerrard when, in the 75th minute, the Liverpool captain crept in behind the Chelsea defence and was about to shoot. From nowhere, or at least from the blindside of Gerrard, Cole came to stretch out a leg and take the power away from his shot. The left-back is in the form of his life and he was arguably Chelsea's most impressive player.
On the opposite side, Branislav Ivanovic was effective against the dire Albert Riera. Only once the game had reached the four minutes of added time did Liverpool fashion their best two chances, a volley that Henrique Hilario turned away with his first major save of the second half. Before then Benayoun, on as a substitute, found himself in space and missed with his shot inside the six-yard area.
By then Chelsea had scored their second in the 91st minute of the game. Drogba took a long ball on his chest in the right side of the area and, with Carragher behind him, managed to hold off the defender and go the long way round by the goal line. Carragher will probably cop most of the blame but when Drogba cut the ball back, Pepe Reina completely missed the cross which Malouda scrambled into the goal.
Fabio Capello took his seat just before kick-off but he did not get the chance to see Joe Cole who warmed up in vain. Ancelotti is certainly doing things his way, picking Deco was not something his immediate predecessor Guus Hiddink did a lot and few have made Anelka and Drogba work so well together. What was Abramovich thinking? At the very least that this manager should last in the job past February.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Hilario; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Essien; Ballack, Deco (Malouda, 76), Lampard; Anelka, Drogba. Substitutes not used: Turnbull, J Cole, Zhirkov, Kalou, Sturridge, Belletti.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua (Aurelio, 83); Mascherano, Lucas (Babel, 76); Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera (Benayoun, 67); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Ngog.
Referee: M Atkinson (Leeds).
Booked: Chelsea Essien; Liverpool Gerrard.
Man of the match: Drogba.
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