For the first time in a UEFA Champions League semi-final, Chelsea FC have a lead to defend in the return leg after Joe Cole, on his first start in this season's competition, scored a 29th-minute goal to lend José Mourinho's team the advantage over Liverpool FC.
Chelsea, making their third last-four appearance in four campaigns, were always the more threatening side and their Premiership rivals were indebted to two fine saves from Pepe Reina that denied Frank Lampard. Petr Čech also pulled off a wonder stop to prevent Steven Gerrard claiming an equaliser but scoring chances were in short supply for the five-times European champions as Chelsea took a step closer to their first-ever final.
The hosts were the first to threaten, although the earliest scare was of Liverpool's own making as Javier Mascherano handed possession straight to Didier Drogba. A promising position for the Chelsea striker fizzled out, however, as he ran into a forest of legs. Mascherano was not the only culprit as Liverpool appeared seized by a collective attack of hesitancy. Rafael Benítez's men were exhibiting no sign of comfort or control in defence and it enabled Lampard to steal on to a Drogba knockdown and get a fierce shot away. Somehow Reina beat it out – a fantastic save.
Chelsea in full flow
Shortly afterwards Andriy Shevchenko turned to lift an effort just over the top and Chelsea were now in full flow, taking encouragement from their opponents' failings. John Arne Riise gave the ball away to Drogba who had Joe Cole in a glorious position square of him, only for the Ivorian to overhit the pass. It could not carry on like that without something giving way. Yet it did for a little while. Drogba, left all alone, failed to connect with Joe Cole's cross, then Lampard was only a whisker away with a raking free-kick.
Finally, on 29 minutes, the breakthrough came as Ricardo Carvalho, passed fit before kick-off, carried the ball intelligently out of defence before locating Drogba's run. Not for the first time Daniel Agger seemed less than secure against the centre-forward's power and Drogba was able to knock the ball across for Cole to ram home.
At the other end Gerrard headed over at full stretch from a Dirk Kuyt centre yet it was a poor first half from Liverpool, who had made little impression on the Chelsea back line. On the restart they sought to make amends, pinning the English title-holders back as Gerrard clipped an attempt just too high and Kuyt directed a header over. Peter Crouch, named on the bench despite his six goals in the tournament, replaced Craig Bellamy after 53 minutes and within seconds he might have witnessed an equaliser as Gerrard let fly with his left boot from the edge of the area. Čech's plunging stop was on a par with Reina's earlier on.
Drogba goes close
Liverpool continued to dominate possession but Chelsea were pressing the ball with terrific urgency and organisation and clear avenues through the blue rearguard were few and far between. Mourinho's team appeared content to hold on to what they had although Drogba muscled his way through to force Reina into a near-post save in the 75th minute and then put a header just wide. Salomon Kalou, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Liverpool's Jermaine Pennant were all introduced into the fray and it was Chelsea who almost grabbed a second late on. Reina twisted to frustrate Lampard yet again in the 81st minute while from a corner at the death Drogba was close with another header.