Liverpool see red over Essien challenge

Jon Brodkin at Stamford Bridge
The Guardian

Liverpool may have beaten Chelsea to win the group last night and showed how far they have come defensively since October's 4-1 league defeat by these opponents at Anfield but few departed discussing those matters. More lively debate surrounded the dangerous tackle with which Michael Essien hit Dietmar Hamann in the first half. Somehow the Chelsea midfielder escaped a red card but then he has a history in that department.

Just as Essien avoided expulsion for a bad challenge on Bolton's Tal Ben Haim, with the incident not seen in its full ugliness by the officials, he got away with similar here. The Ghanaian's studs raked into Hamann just below the knee as he went over the top for a loose ball and Hamann did not hide his disappointment afterwards. "That is the worst tackle I have ever received," he said, "and he has not apologised either."

Liverpool's manager Rafael Benítez called on Uefa to take action on video evidence but Essien looks set to escape punishment because the governing body tends to act retrospectively only on off-the-ball incidents such as spitting, elbowing and headbutts that have been missed by officials. It seems the nearby linesman believed he had seen the tackle clearly because he waved away protests from Liverpool's coaching staff. How neither he nor the German referee saw fit to take action is a mystery.

Jose Mourinho responded to protests by Liverpool's bench with gestures and words and Chelsea's fitness coach Rui Faria appeared to offer the use of his glasses. Later Mourinho showed a rare affinity with Arsène Wenger by saying he had not seen the tackle, though that had not stopped him getting involved, with the Liverpool coach Alex Miller bearing the brunt of his feelings. "In a good way," the Chelsea manager insisted. "I was telling him: 'You are crying all game, you are crying all the time.' I was telling him 'it's enough, sit down a little bit.'"

He felt it was fair to make his feelings known. "Because referees to me are always very direct and very strong to put me in my place but other managers can do what they want," he said. "You can imagine if I did in the Premiership what Stuart Pearce did against Blackburn [running on to the pitch to hurry the opponents along]. 'Jose Mourinho should get a three-month ban', so I cannot do a few things. I think it gives them status."

Benítez kept his true feelings to himself but said of Mourinho: "I think he talks a lot, it's true." Of the challenge itself he offered: "If you see the video you can decide. I don't want to talk about things that are so clear. I could see the tackle, it was in front of the bench but I could see the [scarred] leg of Dietmar Hamann, too."

Hamann went on to play his part in a strong Liverpool defensive performance as they restricted Chelsea to few chances despite the home team's growing control in the second half. Chelsea had begun the game poorly but, even when their passing improved, they found it hard to break down opponents who have now prevented them from scoring in four successive Champions League games.

Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia were impressive at centre-back for Liverpool, with Hyypia winning plenty of high balls and Carragher reading the play well to make potentially difficult moments look comfortable. Ahead of them Mohamed Sissoko was assured with his defensive work and simple passing.

Liverpool were increasingly content after the interval to sit back, close the space and play on the break, where they created little. Throughout Chelsea failed to make significant headway in wide areas, with Arjen Robben and Damien Duff kept in check by Djimi Traoré and Steve Finnan, and Shaun Wright-Phillips made no impact when he came on as a substitute.

This was also an occasion on which Didier Drogba looked anything but a £24m striker, even if he set up his team's best chance with a knock-back from which Robben hit the side-netting. In a poor game of few openings, Jose< Reina's only testing save came in the seventh minute from an effort by Frank Lampard, who had a rare off night with his passing.

Liverpool enjoyed their best period shortly after that when Steven Gerrard had his most influential spell of the match, shooting narrowly wide and then setting up John Arne Riise to bring Petr Cech into rare action.

In the second half they seemed content to eke out a draw which guaranteed them first place and a knock-out game against a group runner-up, with the second leg at Anfield. Mourinho insisted he was not bothered to have ended as runners-up. "For me it's the same to finish second or first," he said, "but I'm not happy because we didn't win the game."

Notes added by LFChistory:

Opponents' line-up: Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho, William Gallas, Renato Paulo Ferreira (Asier del Horno), John Terry, Damien Duff (Shaun Wright-Phillips), Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben (Carlton Cole), Didier Drogba, Eidur Gudjohnsen.

Liverpool's line-up is on LFChistory.

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