Pennant flies the flag for resurgent Reds

Chelsea's defensive shortcomings ruthlessly exposed as Benitez gains first league win over Mourinho's men.

After 100 Premiership games for both managers, Rafael Benitez finally has a league victory over Chelsea to celebrate, although Jose Mourinho might be the one who ends up remembering this occasion the longest.

Inspecting the wreckage of a title challenge from his technical area in the 77th minute, the Chelsea manager looked up to find all four sides of the ground chanting 'Bye-bye Mourinho' and waving in that friendly way Scousers have.

Whether Anfield will have the final say on Mourinho's future is debatable, but at this rate it will soon be bye-bye Chelsea. An overnight sickness ruled out Ricardo Carvalho on the morning of the match and brought Mourinho's worst fears into being. For weeks he has been complaining that he has only three centre-backs to choose from and with John Terry and Khalid Boulahrouz injured, suddenly he had none.

With Michael Essien and Paulo Ferreira pressed into service as emergency centre-halves, Liverpool had the match won inside 20 minutes and left Chelsea looking like an ongoing emergency. As the clanking of loose change in Roman Abramovich's pocket has stopped drowning out all the other noises emanating from Stamford Bridge, Mourinho was left counting his blessings - 'We are still higher in the table than Liverpool and if United lose to Arsenal [today] I would still be confident' - and clutching at some extremely wispy straws.

'Rafa is not stupid and I am not a magician,' he said. 'Of course he plays [Peter] Crouch and [Dirk] Kuyt up front because Crouch is too tall for us and Kuyt is too strong. I had been hoping, wishing, we could get through the first quarter without conceding because that would have brought belief and something to build on, but it didn't happen. You can play in Europe without central defenders, but in the Premiership, where everyone has target men and players who play with their back to goal, it is impossible.'

Mourinho went on to list all the cup competitions Chelsea are still involved in, yet the fact is that if they defend as inexpertly as they did here, they will be out of them very quickly. Essien and Ferreira improved through the game, in fairness, although perhaps it could be argued that Liverpool's less than deadly attack did not fully expose them. To the consternation of the crowd, Essien actually managed to win most of his one-on-ones with Crouch and there was a feeling until quite late in the game that if Chelsea pulled one back, there might be an interesting finish. 'We did a fantastic job,' Benitez said. 'Maybe we could have scored another goal or two, but everyone played really well.'

Liverpool could easily have had at least one more goal in the first 10 minutes, when Chelsea defenders were still introducing themselves to each other. It was clear how little practice Essien and Ferreira had had as a central defensive partnership when the first long ball came towards them after 3 minutes and 14 seconds. Jamie Carragher played it, Crouch reached it, Kuyt took advantage of Ferreira's hesitation to control it in the area and smash a shot past Petr Cech. Three minutes later, poor positioning embarrassed Chelsea again when John Arne Riise collected Xabi Alonso's through-ball and found himself with only Cech to beat, although this time the goalkeeper beat away the shot in a manner suggesting that he is fully recovered after his four-month absence with a fractured skull.

Recovered or not, there was nothing Cech could do about Liverpool's second goal. Apart from shout at his defenders, that is. First Steven Gerrard was allowed far too much time to angle in a cross, then, when Essien headed the ball out, everyone stood and admired the way Jermaine Pennant controlled it on his chest, let it bounce, then looped an unstoppable half-volley over Cech and in off the underside of the bar from the corner of the penalty area.

There was no way back for Chelsea after that and their only two first-half efforts of note landed in the Kop. After Frank Lampard had sent a free-kick way over the bar, Drogba fired a first-time shot so high that it hit the Kop roof. And that's high.

By the time Drogba had squandered a promising free-kick opportunity on the edge of the area after 67 minutes, taking an age to address the ball, then hilariously tapping it to Michael Ballack when he was not looking, Mourinho decided that he might as well send on Andriy Shevchenko. So, in addition to all the other indignities he has suffered this season, the Ukraine and former Milan striker had to put up with Anfield singing: 'Where were you in Istanbul?'

At least Chelsea got off reasonably lightly in terms of goals. Anfield has seen a few in the past couple of weeks and despite Crouch's shortcomings as a striker, Liverpool could easily have made Benitez's day with a couple more in the second half. Kuyt volleyed narrowly over at the end, although it was Riise's astonishing effort on the hour that so nearly made the day memorable.

With hardly any warning, from more than 40 yards, Riise unleashed a shot that Cech barely saw until it crashed against his bar. Two inches lower and it would have been goal of the season. As it was, when the rebound finally came down, Crouch scuffed it. From the sublime to the ridiculous in next to no time. Chelsea know exactly how that feels.

Match Facts

Jose Manuel Reina, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Jermaine Pennant, John Arne Riise, Peter Crouch (Craig Bellamy), Dirk Kuyt (Mark Gonzalez)
Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Renato Paulo Ferreira, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, Ndjitap Geremi, Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (Andriy Shevchenko), Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Arjen Robben (Shaun Wright-Phillips)

Referee: Styles, R

Venue: Anfield

Attendance: 44,245

Liverpool 3
Chelsea 7

Goal Attempts:
Liverpool 17
Chelsea 11

On Target:
Liverpool 8
Chelsea 3

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited

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