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Drogba's magic stuns Liverpool

The saga continues. The pre-match handshake between Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez was no more than the touch of gloves between two fighters before they knock seven bells out of each other.

Chelsea-Liverpool games are rarely memorable in themselves, but always produce something to remember them by. This one was won by a Didier Drogba goal so stunning that it almost overshadowed all the conflict and controversy that followed. Almost.

Mourinho has won all five of his Premiership meetings with Benitez. The result was harsh on Liverpool, but they had enough chances to change the outcome, particularly after Michael Ballack was sent off early in the second half. Dirk Kuyt hit the crossbar in the first period and wasted two further chances. Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch should also have scored. It leaves Liverpool with one point from their three away games; they trail Chelsea by eight points.

The goal was an oasis of class in an arid first half. When Frank Lampard's floated pass reached Drogba, he had his back to goal and the considerable presence of Jamie Carragher buffeting him from behind. Somehow, the Chelsea forward resisted the challenge and controlled the ball on his chest before instantly turning to lash the sweetest of left-foot volleys home. The execution of the goal was a sudden blur. Only the vivid television replays did justice to Drogba's excellence. Few goals are unstoppable, yet Liverpool could do nothing to prevent this one.

Mourinho was as motionless as Pepe Reina as the ball flew past the helpless Liverpool keeper. Chelsea's manager was the only man in the stadium who remained in his seat. And yet moments later, he raced over to the touchline to implore referee Mike Riley to dismiss Momo Sissoko. Cautioned a minute earlier for an innocuous challenge on Claude Makelele, the combative Liverpool midfield player then upended Lampard and was lucky not to be sent off. "An incident that could have killed the game for us," the Chelsea manager said. "It was not the referee's day." Nor Ballack's either.

Even Mourinho agreed that the German captain had to go six minutes after the restart. Ironically, Sissoko was his victim. As the leggy African fell to the ground after holding off Lampard, Ballack spitefully decorated the inside of his thigh with a stamp of his studs. Mourinho claimed it was nothing worse than a mistimed challenge; the perpetrator looked as if he knew exactly what he was doing.

Like fellow newcomers, Andrei Shevchenko and Khalid Boulahrouz, Ballack had been off the frenzied pace up to that point. The other two soon followed him off the field. Shevchenko still looks short of sharpness and strength. Boulahrouz looks about as happy at full-back as William Gallas used to. It was left to the belligerence of Drogba, Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho to see the them through.

Going down to ten men certainly brought Chelsea's fighting qualities to the fore, and both John Terry and Arjen Robben had chances to add to the lead. Kuyt, of all people, thwarted Terry with a last-ditch lunge, and Robben sprinted clear before Carra-gher and Daniel Agger caught him up.

However, Liverpool looked more likely to score. Their best chances to equalise came after Gerrard was switched from the left flank to a more central position in midfield for the final quarter. The captain had the best chance of all, breaking Boulahrouz's flimsy challenge before blasting a shot straight at Petr Cech. Kuyt rattled the bar from Xabi Alonso's astute pass in the early stages, and failed to hit the target with two further opportunities.

Gerrard was bowled to the ground by Lampard amid furious penalty appeals, then substitute Peter Crouch headed weakly at Cech during added time. So many openings, and yet Liverpool's three away matches have produced only a solitary penalty. Benitez did a passable Basil Fawlty impression in his exasperated rage on the touchline. But no amount of handshakes or semi-final triumphs can disguise his frustration at being unable to make inroads into Chelsea's Premiership superiority.

Goodness knows what the watching golfer Tiger Woods made of the high-testosterone sporting exhibition. The Ryder Cup will seem like a friendly fourball by comparison. Colin Montgomerie has suggested that Mourinho be invited to Ireland to help Ian Woosnam to bond his talented individuals into a winning European team. If the Chelsea manager accepts, he may like to check that Benitez is not listening at the door.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Boulahrouz (Ferreira 72), Carvalho, Terry, A.Cole; Makelele; Essien, Ballack, Lampard; Drogba (Kalou 90), Shevchenko (Robben 65).

Subs: Cudicini (g), Mikel.

Booked: Boulahrouz, Drogba.

Sent Off: Ballack.

Liverpool line-up on LFChistory

Copyright - The Telegraph

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