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Eye-catching evening in England

Published: Thursday 29 September 2005, 10.46CET
Do not be fooled by the scoreline, the meeting of Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC was a typical English tie with fans and the weather playing their part.
by Adam Szreter
from Liverpool

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Published: Thursday 29 September 2005, 10.46CET

Eye-catching evening in England

Do not be fooled by the scoreline, the meeting of Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC was a typical English tie with fans and the weather playing their part.
The first UEFA Champions League group game between teams from the same country finished, appropriately enough, in stalemate. But do not be fooled by the scoreline - this was a highly competitive and committed tie yielding no fewer than five yellow cards which may come back to haunt the culprits later in the competition.

English occasion
Despite the presence of only five 'natives' on the pitch it was a distinctly English occasion. Expertly managed by a Spaniard and a Portuguese, adroitly arbitrated by an Italian but, most pertinently, played out in front of English fans. When it comes to determining the style of a game the nationality of the players, coaches and officials seems meaningless in comparison to the influence of the audience.

Expectancy high
At the group-stage draw in Monaco last month the temptation was to assume the two Premiership clubs would cruise through from Group G at the expense of RSC Anderlecht and Real Betis Balompié. But from the moment Liverpool's emotional You'll Never Walk Alone anthem boomed out from the loudspeakers minutes before kick-off, no player from either team was going to cruise anywhere. Supporters from both sides, but especially Liverpool, demanded full value for money.

'Second chances'
"Autumn is teeming with second chances," one local newspaper wrote ahead of this game, but you would hardly have thought so from the way it was played. If it never quite matched the intensity of last season's semi-final second leg between the same teams at the same stadium then it came very close, with penalty appeals and last-ditch tackles aplenty.

Chatting coaches
The sight of José Mourinho and Rafael Benítez chatting for more than five minutes watching their sides warm up also suggested it was to be less competitive than one might expect at this stage of the tournament. But the coaches' pre-match sang-froid was quickly replaced by more naked emotion as both men reappeared side by side on the touchline within five minutes of the start, this time exhorting their troops rather than exchanging pleasantries.

Dreadful day
It had been a dreadful day in the north-west of England, but the skies cleared before kick-off to provide an ideal setting, the greasy surface adding just enough zip to proceedings without spoiling them. As usual in games involving Liverpool much was expected of their captain and talisman Steven Gerrard, his direct confrontation with Frank Lampard as eagerly anticipated as ever.

England team-mates
Neither player disappointed, Gerrard all action and leading by example, Lampard striking fear into his opponents whenever he came within shooting range. Both often appear to accept supporting roles when representing their country, but there is never any doubt who is the leading man when it comes to their respective clubs. Had Gerrard decided to join Chelsea rather than stay at Liverpool it would have been interesting to see how Mourinho intended to combine them.

New signings
Instead Chelsea paid a lot of money to Olympique Lyonnais for Michael Essien, but on the evidence of this tie it is arguable whether he or Peter Crouch, Liverpool's most notable new signing, will prove the better investment. Certainly Chelsea's normally composed defence seemed to panic whenever the ball was played towards the head of Crouch, who stands more than two metres tall.

Abramovich boost
At the other end Damien Duff and Arjen Robben, both non-starters in Liverpool's 1-0 semi-final victory here in the spring, caused equal concern to the home defence and it was unusual to see Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypiä on anything other than the same wavelength in a European context. Perhaps it was the news that Roman Abramovich will have even more money to spend on Chelsea now he has sold off a large part of his oil empire that sent the Liverpool centre-backs into a temporary tailspin. Then again, perhaps not.

Last updated: 29/09/05 14.20CET

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