An aberration from Jean Arne Riise has put Chelsea in the driving seat to reach the Champions League final in Moscow and may be the Norwegian’s last significant contribution at Anfield. Deep into injury time, added on at the whim of disgraceful referee Konrad Plautz, Riise’s attempted headed clearance stole victory from a dominant Liverpool side and gave Chelsea a first leg away goal in the semi-final first leg.
And theft is an apt metaphor to use of a night when Chelsea attempted to cheat their way to the final deploying the dramatic skills of Didier Drogba who attempted to feign injury continuously and the knees and elbows of John Terry who persistently assaulted and fouled Liverpool players throughout the 90 minutes. Terry was eventually booked after chopping down Javier Mescherano at knee height and a competent referee would have been furnishing him with a second yellow and expelling him from the pitch.
The match opened in frenzied fashion and it took some 30 minutes for Liverpool to assert their dominance. In the opening period ball retention proved difficult and the triumvirate of Torres, Babel and Kuyt showed a tendency to give away possession. As nerves settled Xabi Alonso and Javier Mescharano began to govern the midfield and Liverpool’s superiority was reflected in chances created. Gerrard’s through ball should have been converted by Torres who instead found Cech’s body. Then two minutes from time Kuyt’s mishit cross was not cleared properly by Frank Lampard. Typical tireless industry from the Dutch striker won back possession on the eighteen yard line and Mescherano helped the ball into the area where strength and persistence saw Kuyt find the net.
The striker, deployed on the right by Rafa Benitez, had previously shown indecision one on one with the Chelsea goalkeeper and had tentatively chested a long pass within Cech’s grasp when really Liverpool should have taken the lead. The Dutchman is indefatigable however and made a case for being named man of the match, with his goal and his tireless running of the line in the second half.
It was Liverpool’s dominance during this second period that made Chelsea’s equalising goal hard to stomach. Benitez’ side might yet rue failing to turn this superiority into goals. Cech produced an acrobatic stop from Gerrard’s dipping volley and Torres shot again into the body of the Chelsea keeper. The red tide was relentless, but possession only infrequently precipitated clear cut chances and these chances were in any case not converted.
Still, Liverpool have shown themselves a better team than Chelsea, and although Riise’s own goal gave the result a blue hue and made the London side favourites to progress at Stamford Bridge, Rafa’s men should travel to Stamford Bridge with confidence. Chelsea’s ground provides an anaemic atmosphere in comparison to Anfield and Avram Grant’s collection of rarefied prima donnas may well be jittery with the prize so nearly in their grasp. Inevitably Bruno Cheyrou’s goal will not be the last Liverpool ever scores at Stamford Bridge and we are more than capable of scoring there next Wednesday.
Whatever the outcome, Chelsea represent much of what is bad about the modern game and no-one at that club, neither their overpaid players, nor their passionless little band of supporters, deserve to grace a European Cup final.