Read on for the PA Sport report on tonight’s Champions League semi-final first leg tie at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea 0 Liverpool 0
The ego has landed – for now. Jose Mourinho may claim to be
"special" but, at least until next week’s return Champions League
encounter,Rafael Benitez has proved his equal on the European stage.
Mourinho, last year’s Champions League winner with Porto, had joked
that his ego has expanded this season amid further domestic success
with Chelsea. However, Benitez, who claimed last season’s UEFA Cup trophy with Valencia, also has a rich European pedigree.
And even amid an all-English Champions League semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge, there was enough Spanish nous and bravado to match the Portuguese extravagance and showmanship.
For even though Liverpool had lost all three previous meetings with Chelsea this season – twice in the league and once in the Carling Cup final – they still bridged the 31-point Premiership gulf.
Of course, it could all change at Anfield. After all, Chelsea were held to a goalless draw in their Carling Cup semi-final first leg by Manchester United, and they still prevailed.
However, while Frank Lampard spurned one clear chance, Chelsea were indebted to goalkeeper Petr Cech for saving them from defeat with two superb reaction saves.
It was still by no means a classic. Far from it, in fact. But as Liverpool fans taunted "you’ve got no history", their team at least proved they could still have a future.
Although the Reds have been frustratingly inconsistent this season, losing at Crystal Palace just four days earlier, when Europe calls – even in London – they have so far risen to the occasion.
As for Chelsea, they may have already won the Carling Cup and be poised for success in the Barclays Premiership, but the Champions League is proving a rather tougher nut to crack.
There was certainly an element of Continental caution in the air at Stamford Bridge, with Didier Drogba and Milan Baros respectively playing up front on their own.
With Arjen Robben initially kept on the bench and Damien Duff injured, Chelsea lacked natural width and while Drogba still managed to muscle his way through the centre, he dragged his shot wide.
Liverpool, meanwhile, looked to exploit Glen Johnson’s defensive weaknesses and John-Arne Riise was pushed well forward as a result.
Indeed, when the Norway international skipped past Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry, he was only foiled by Cech’s first vital reaction save.
Cech was even more inspired just before half-time when he produced an exceptional one-handed save at full stretch to tip Baros’ header around the post from Steven Gerrard’s cross.
In between, Chelsea threatened themselves, albeit rather more ponderously than normal and they lacked their usual sharpness on the counter-attack.
When William Gallas provided some much-needed width, his deep cross was headed down by Joe Cole and Lampard swivelled six yards out but promptly
blazed his half-volley over the bar.
Drogba headed over the top, with Terry mishitting an effort wide, but a Liverpool defence marshalled by the excellent Jamie Carragher were holding firm.
Indeed, while Cole jinked round two defenders after the restart, Sami Hyypia recovered just in time to stop him in his tracks.
It was therefore no surprise to see Robben emerge from the bench with 58 minutes gone to replace Tiago.
The Dutch winger was quickly in the thick of the action, although Benitez responded by throwing on Djibril Cisse for Baros and the Frenchman immediately rifled a shot over the crossbar.
Liverpool were comfortably holding their own and Mourinho turned to Mateja Kezman, replacing Cole.
It made little difference. Indeed, his main impact came in being booked within a minute of his arrival for a needless foul on Djimi Traore, as the frustration levels grew in the Chelsea ranks.
Xabi Alonso still paid a heavy price for a tackle from behind on Gudjohnsen in the closing stages, ruling him out of the second leg at Anfield.
Chelsea, however, now face a real test of their progress under Mourinho. The treble is still potentially on but Liverpool in the Champions League are clearly a different prospect than in the Premiership.
Chelsea: Cech, Gallas, Johnson, Carvalho, Terry, Cole (Kezman 79), Gudjohnsen, Lampard, Makelele, Tiago (Robben 59), Drogba
Subs not used: Cudicini, Forssell, Geremi, Huth, Smertin
Booked: Cole, Kezman
Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Finnan, Hyypia, Traore, Alonso, Biscan (Kewell 86), Gerrard, Luis Garcia (Smicer 90), Riise, Baros (Cisse 66)
Subs not used: Carson, Le Tallec, Nunez, Warnock
Booked: Biscan, Alonso
Referee: Alain Sars (France)