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Chelsea's old and new are instant hits

In the city where money supposedly can't buy you love, a Russian billionaire yesterday found his ardour for Chelsea growing ever stronger. In front of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's expensive ensemble yesterday performed with character and counter-attacking zeal, though the real class act was the one player who cost the club nothing, John Terry, a colossus at the back.

Close to Terry in importance was Juan Sebastian Veron, who revelled in the space and licence afforded him by Claudio Ranieri's five-man midfield. Frank Lampard and Geremi worked hard around Veron, freeing him from the defensive responsibilities the Argentine finds so alien to his artistic nature.

Veron scored Chelsea's first and after Michael Owen had converted a penalty at the second attempt, the man who became a misfit at Manchester United helped to create Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's late winner to give Chelsea only their second League win at Anfield since the General Strike. "Veron is a great champion and he showed that today," Ranieri said.

Most encouragingly for Chelsea was the way they recovered from the disappointment of conceding Owen's equaliser. The old Chelsea might have folded but they stayed strong, feeding on the resilience of Terry and reliability of Carlo Cudicini, to force a famous victory.

"We showed our fighting spirit," Terry said. "We have a lot of new players but everyone has settled in quickly, far quicker than I thought because it usually takes three months."

The one disappointment was Damien Duff, who was largely subdued, although Glen Johnson was beginning to struggle before he was withdrawn.

Any hopes of a bright new red dawn for Liverpool look limited, though they will gain in variety and vigour when the suspended Steven Gerrard and injured Dietmar Hamann return to replace the ineffectual Igor Biscan and Bruno Cheyrou, journeymen who would have struggled to make Liverpool's reserves in the Seventies.

Only Danny Murphy was prepared to take responsibility in midfield, testing Cudicini's fine reflexes in the third minute and always using the ball sensibly in trying to free Harry Kewell as he floated behind Owen and Emile Heskey.

Liverpool's manager, Gerard Houllier, is convinced that Kewell can succeed in the hole when most of his best work for Leeds United was done out on the left. "Harry showed some good bits but their midfield was very condensed around him," Houllier said.

Ranieri was also playing wingers out of position. It had taken Chelsea's self-styled Tinkerman of a manager 25 minutes to rectify a tactical aberration, namely starting Duff and Jesper Gronkjaer on the wrong flanks. "When I picked them, I told them to be careful because I am the Tinkerman and I can switch everything," smiled Ranieri. They did not need reminding.

Once switched, Gronkjaer went raiding speedily down the right, chasing on to Lampard's clever pass and drawing Sami Hyypia out of the middle. Gronkjaer's cross was swiftly delivered, deceiving Stephane Henchoz, who slipped, allowing Veron a free shot at goal from 10 yards.

Liverpool were stung into life, Owen bringing another outstanding save from Cudicini. Back came Chelsea, Veron releasing Eidur Gudjohnsen, but the striker placed his shot too close to the alert Jerzy Dudek. A look of thunder crossed Abramovich's face.

Gudjohnsen departed and Hasselbaink stormed on at half-time, releasing all his pent-up frustration at being kept in reserve. Chelsea looked good, Lampard and Hasselbaink both going close before Houllier discarded his familiar cloak of caution and sent on more attackers. One of them, El Hadji Diouf, earned a penalty 13 minutes from time when he was brought down by Wayne Bridge. Owen put the spot-kick wide but Steve Bennett ordered a re-take, much to Chelsea's consternation.

"The linesman said that I moved," sighed Cudicini. "It's a rule I don't know anything about." Every club has now been alerted to the tightening of the rules.

Owen made no mistake with the second, thumping it high into the net. Yet Chelsea showed real grit and Hasselbaink, freed by Lampard after good work by Veron, placed a low shot triumphantly past Dudek with three minutes remaining.

"I never said Jimmy was out [of contention]," insisted Ranieri, who can call on Adrian Mutu when the Romanian's international clearance arrives this week. "This victory will give us a lot of confidence," Ranieri added.

After losing their first opening-day game at Anfield since before the Beatles had their first hit, Liverpool look to have some hard days and nights ahead of them.

Team details

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz (Finnan 70), Hyypia, Riise, Kewell, Murphy, Biscan (Baros 70), Cheyrou (Diouf 55), Owen, Heskey.
Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Le Tallec.
Booked: Biscan, Henchoz, Diouf.
Goals: Owen 79 pen.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Johnson (Gallas 73), Terry, Desailly, Bridge, Gronkjaer, Geremi, Veron, Lampard, Duff (Joe Cole 75), Gudjohnsen (Hasselbaink 45).
Subs Not Used: Ambrosio, Forssell.
Booked: Lampard.
Goals: Veron 25, Hasselbaink 87.

Att: 44,082
Ref: S Bennett (Kent).

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