Liverpool Echo report

COME back Bruno Cheyrou, all is forgiven.

The much maligned Frenchman remains the last Liverpool player to score at Stamford Bridge and someone is going to have to repeat his feat of four years ago if the current side is to stand any chance of qualifying for their third European Cup final since then.

John Arne Riise’s injury time own goal was the kind of sickening blow not suffered at Anfield since Michael Thomas won Arsenal the league title with the last kick of the game in 1989.

It gave Chelsea a crucial away goal and makes Avram Grant’s side favourites to make it through to Moscow.

But it should not be allowed to mask the fact that, after a shaky start, Liverpool were the better side and could and perhaps should have put the tie beyond doubt by the time Riise used his head when a swipe of the right foot would have been more advisable.

Had Petr Cech not enjoyed one of those nights which prove why he is considered the best keeper in the world and had Fernando Torres not endured pretty much his first night to forget in a Liverpool shirt, Rafa Benitez’s men would have won and done so quite comfortably.

Pepe Reina’s role as a spectator would only have been more apparent had the Liverpool keeper joined in with the Kop when they did the visually stunning Torres bounce.

But Chelsea kept up their knack of producing a result that their performance level did not deserve when a Liverpool player did something no-one dressed in blue had looked likely to do all night.

Riise was drugs tested after the game and no doubt the testers wanted to know what kind of substance would cause a top level footballer to make such a calamitous decision at such a crucial moment.

In truth, though, the Norwegian’s refusal to use his right foot has been an accident waiting to happen for far too long and last night it happened at the worst possible moment.

The chances of Riise being able to head Salomon Kalou’s hopeful cross over his own bar were as slim as the possibility of Didier Drogba staying on his feet for 90 minutes but for some unfathomable reason he attempted to do so and only succeeded in sending the ball crashing past Reina.

Only the cruellest of souls will sing ‘I wanna know how you scored that goal’ to Riise from now on.

It was only an equaliser but such was the nature and the timing of the goal, Anfield deflated as if Liverpool had lost.

An air of celebration was replaced by a mood of desolation as the reality set in that Liverpool had gone from odds on favourites to underdogs in the blink of an eye.

That mood will be difficult to shift but Benitez could do a lot worse than gather his players at Melwood to take them through the video of this game because that should restore their belief that they can still conquer Chelsea.

Liverpool have nothing to fear from the side built with Roman Abramovich’s fortune, not on this evidence anyway.

Yes, they are obstinate and hard to beat and yes, they seem to have an innate ability to get results they ill deserve.

But when it comes down to it, they are not a great side – far from it.

Arsenal were vanquished in the last round and they are a far superior outfit to their London rivals. Similarly, Inter Milan have a pedigree that Chelsea cannot match and they were also disposed of.

And it should not be forgotten that in both of those ties Liverpool managed to score an away goal, something they have done on every single European trip so far this season.

They also have one of the Champions League’s most in-form strikers in Dirk Kuyt who has now scored eight goals in his last 12 European games.

The Dutchman has developed a welcome habit of scoring on the biggest occasions and having notched the winning penalty in last year’s dramatic shootout win over Chelsea at the same stage of the competition he will again be hopeful of being the hero of the hour.

It certainly looked like Kuyt would acquire such status last night after he scored a goal which appeared likely to be the winner until Riise’s unfortunate intervention.

There are still those in football who find fault with Kuyt, damning him with faint praise for being an artisan rather than an artist.

But in sport, as in life, hard work can so often pay off and Kuyt and Liverpool are currently feasting on the fruits of his labour on an increasingly regular basis.

In the past his industry has not always been accompanied by end product but the way Kuyt created his goal last night showed what he is all about.

Other players would have allowed Frank Lampard the time to clear his lines but that’s not what Kuyt’s about. Instead he closed the England man down and got a block in before making his way into the box to seize on Javier Mascherano’s misplaced shot and firing the loose ball past Cech.

Apart from a wonderful block by Mascherano when Florent Malouda looked set to score, Chelsea barely troubled Liverpool from that point on.

With Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher bossing Drogba, the visitors looked short of ideas and equally bereft of any genuine threat.

In contrast, Liverpool continued to look menacing, largely thanks to their ambitious approach which saw them push men forward into attacking positions at every opportunity.

Xabi Alonso pulled the strings in midfield in his best performance in a number of weeks and Chelsea’s central defensive pairing of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were forced into increasingly foul means to keep the red tide at bay.

How Terry got to injury time before finally being booked is a question only the normally card happy Konrad Plautz can answer.

At times the Austrian referee seemed intent on turning football into a non-contact sport with countless insignificant incidents producing free-kicks. But he also allowed Terry and Carvalho to use the kind of overly physical approach on Torres not seen since the days when Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris wore Chelsea blue.

Torres will learn from that. He now knows exactly what Chelsea’s twin centre backs are about and will be ready for that when the two sides meet in next week’s second leg.

And should the Spaniard go on to score the winning goal at Stamford Bridge he will take Cheyrou’s mantle – what more could you ask for in your first season in English football?

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio (Riise, 61), Mascherano, Alonso, Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (Benayoun, 75), Torres.

CHELSEA: Cech, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Cole, Makelele, Ballack (Anelka, 85), Lampard, Malouda, Cole (Kalou, 63), Drogba.


REFEREE: Konrad Plautz (Austria).

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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