UEFA Champs League |
No winners at Anfield
European champions Liverpool earned a crucial point against Premiership champions Chelsea as the all-English Champions League showdown ended in a goalless stalemate at Anfield on Wednesday.
Rafael Benitez emerged the most satisfied of the two managers after a tense encounter of few chances which failed to live up to the pre-match blockbuster billing.
Both clubs, who meet again on Sunday in the Premiership, remain unbeaten after two games in Group G.
Liverpool's Spanish keeper Jose Reina produced the save of the match to deny Arjen Robben although Chelsea were lucky to escape when the referee waved away strong appeals for a penalty after William Gallas appeared to block a goal-bound Jamie Carragher header with his arm.
"It was a definite penalty," Carragher said afterwards. "Every time we play against Chelsea we seem to get a penalty that isn't given. But four points in two games - we are delighted at that."
Despite being crowned European champions, Liverpool finished 37 points behind title-winners Chelsea in the Premiership table last season and they started the fifth meeting between the two clubs of 2005 14 points adrift of their London opponents.
It was supposed to be a sophisticated European production with a multinational cast.
But there was a predictably English robustness to the clattering challenges that punctured the opening scenes and resulted in early bookings for Xabi Alonso, Liverpool's influential Spanish midfielder, and Chelsea's French midfielder Claude Makelele.
Equally predictably, it was the artistry of Robben which interrupted the frenzied pattern of the early exchanges and brought the best chance of the first half.
After Dietmar Hamann had carelessly conceded possession in front of the main stand, the Dutch international danced past Sami Hyypia as though the Finland defender did not exist before forcing Reina, who had earlier done well to keep out Frank Lampard's sixth minute free-kick, into a terrific finger-tip save.
Although five-times European champions Liverpool enjoyed plenty of possession before the interval and had more shots before half-time, it was Chelsea who looked more likely to break the deadlock in a high-tempo contest which was not for the faint hearted.
Liverpool made four changes to the side which started against Birmingham last Saturday yet even the revitalised legs of eight-goal Djibril Cisse failed to ask enough questions of the well-marshalled Chelsea defence.
This was Steven Gerrard's first outing against Chelsea since they failed in a 32-million-pound attempt to lure the Liverpool captain to Stamford Bridge in the summer.
Yet the midfield talisman struggled to reach peak form as Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was rarely troubled.
Liverpool's best spell came at the start of the second-half. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had taunted his rivals on the eve of the game by reiterating his claim that Luis Garcia's decisive goal which eliminated Chelsea at the semi-final stage last season should not have been allowed.
Garcia went close to haunting Mourinho again as he broke free inside the penalty area only to lose his composure at the crucial moment.
Liverpool then had a strong appeal for a penalty waved away by Italian referee Massimo De Santis when a Carragher header struck the outstretched arm of Gallas.
As the game headed for a goalless conclusion, Chelsea struggled to contain their frustration. Mourinho had spent much of the first half getting increasingly animated on the touchline while Robben and Terry were each shown yellow cards.
Mourinho responded by taking Robben out of the firing line but even his replacement Shaun Wright-Phillips failed to unlock Liverpool's defence which now boasts eight cleansheets in 14 competitive European and domestic games this season.