Crespo Continues Blues Cruise (Sky Sports)
Chelsea 2 Liverpool 0
Chelsea extended their lead at the top of The Premiership to a formidable 15 points after sealing a league double over Liverpool with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
Familiarity must surely be breeding contempt for Rafa Benitez as he failed to outwit Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho for the fourth time in the current campaign, as goals from William Gallas and Hernan Crespo surely ended any residual hopes Liverpool had of clawing back their rivals in the table.
European champions they may be, but The Reds, and the rest of The Premiership for that matter, are no match for Mourinho's all-conquering Blues, and insult was added to injury when Jose Reina was dismissed in the final ten minutes after a rash tackle on Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The contest opened in the mould of the goalless stalemates between the two sides in the UEFA Champions League this season, and the uneven turf at Stamford Bridge did not help matters.
Bentiez's men had the best of things initially, and were looking adept against a formidable Chelsea midfield that included Michael Essien - recovered from his ankle injury and back in the team after Ghana's African Cup of Nations exit.
The Reds' best chances came in the air, and from two early corners both centre backs Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia failed to test Petr Cech when well placed from Steven Gerrard corners.
Mourinho's men threatened intermittently, and Arjen Robben clicked into gear as he evaded the challenge of Stephen Warnock, nutmegged Xabi Alonso then dragged a shot wide on 15 minutes.
However Gerrard, as always, was proving influential against the team he snubbed in the summer, and the Reds captain smashed an effort high and wide after Steve Finnan turned John Terry inside out on the right after 19 minutes.
Peter Crouch demonstrated an acute lack of power as he wasted another two headed chances with Alonso also wayward, and despite Liverpool edging the contest it was Chelsea who took the lead with ten minutes to go before the break as The Reds' defence were culpable from a Frank Lampard corner.
As the ball swung in, Liverpool's ranks charged out, and Ricardo Carvalho directed a header back towards goal where Gallas was waiting unmarked to hook in past Jose Reina.
Just one minute later it could have been double the trouble for the visitors as Joe Cole, so often Benitez's tormentor, robbed Warnock of possession on the edge of the box and only found the side netting with a powerful drive.
The Blues wide-man saw two more efforts fail to beat Reina, before Carragher of all people had a stinging volley directed wide by Terry at the other end.
With time running out in the first period Gerrard pulled a close range effort wide after darting inside Gallas, but it was Chelsea who nearly claimed the second when Hernan Crespo was ruled offside after pouncing to put the ball in the back of the net when Reina spilled Terry's header.
To have any chance of keeping the Premiership title race alive Liverpool needed to come out of the blocks quickly, and the visitors threatened just five minutes after the break when a dangerous cross by Gerrard resulted in the ball falling to Mohammed Sissoko outside the box - although the Malian midfielder rifled his effort over.
John Arne Riise then acted as provider as his cross from the left found Gerrard, and, although the Reds captain showed exemplary technique to fizz a volley at goal, Cech was equal to the task.
For all Liverpool's endeavour they were nearly exposed when Robben was released on a quick break and slid his shot wide after jinking past Carragher - although a square pass to Crespo would surely have resulted in a second for The Blues.
Mourinho's side threatened again after substitute Luis Garcia found his name in the book after a late tackle on Gallas, as from the resultant set-piece a drilled half-volley from Cole was claimed by Reina.
Just four minutes later however, Chelsea took firm control of the tie as Liverpool's defensive organisation again led to their downfall.
After Carragher had headed out Lampard's deep free-kick, Warnock played Crespo onside and the Argentine striker let Del Horno's chipped pass drop before angling the ball past Reina into the far corner of the net.
Crespo was thwarted by The Reds in last season's UEFA Champions League final whilst on loan at Milan, but was determined not to let the same thing happen again and was cruelly denied a second less than 60 seconds later as his exquisite lob with the outside of the boot was ruled out due to an incorrect offside decision.
Harry Kewell attempted to lead an unlikely Liverpool comeback but his neat effort lacked enough curl to take it inside Cech's far post.
Despite his side's two goal lead things were not all rosy for Mourinho as Republic of Ireland international Damien Duff had to be substituted due to injury after 79 minutes, just five minutes after being introduced to the fray himself.
Eidur Gudjohnsen was the man to benefit, and the Icelandic international was part of a major flashpoint with ten minutes to go as he took the ball past Reina. The Reds keeper pursued the Chelsea man to the touchline and launched into an outrageous aerial scissor challenge that had the Blues supporters baying for blood.
Reina also pushed Robben in the face before he was shown the red card by referee Alan Wiley as tempers flared, and Garcia became the second substitute to be withdrawn as Jerzy Dudek made a rare appearance.
The Pole was tested by Crespo in the closing exchanges, and a supreme last-ditch tackle from Gerrard prevented Robben adding further gloss to the win that again reiterated Chelsea's Premiership supremacy.
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||1|
|4||Shots off Target||10|
Cech, Del Horno, Gallas, Carvalho, Terry, J. Cole
(Duff74, Gudjohnsen 79), Essien, Lampard, Makelele (Diarra 84), Crespo, Robben
Not Used Cudicini, Huth
Goals Gallas 35, Crespo 68
Reina, Carragher, Finnan, Hyypia, Alonso,
Gerrard, Kewell, Riise (Luis Garcia 61, Dudek 83)), Sissoko (Cisse 74), Warnock,
Subs Not Used Traore, Morientes
Booked Luis Garcia, Alonso
Sent Off Reina