Dutch of class in harsh
Euro lesson for Liverpool
Comment by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
It's a scenario Anfield has witnessed rarely.
But sometimes, just sometimes – a team comes to the home of
the unlikely European comeback and dominates so utterly, so
comprehensively – you can do little more than hold your
hands up and accept it.
Johann Cruyff’s Ajax did it in 1966, a crack Red Star
Belgrade followed suit a decade later, while the Valencia
side managed by a promising young Spanish boss called
Benitez were the last team to look so crushingly composed in
the Anfield cauldron.
But if those sides were all classically continental in their
approach, it was the turn of an English club last night.
Twenty-two times Liverpool have faced Chelsea in Rafael
Benitez’s reign. One harrowing afternoon at Anfield apart,
you could barely slide a cigarette paper between the sides.
So what made the difference last night?
Undoubtedly a little Dutch of class.
If Chelsea have an English heartbeat in John Terry, Frank
Lampard and Ashley Cole, there was little doubt where last
night’s inspiration came from.
Guus Hiddink’s credentials stand scrutiny against any other
coach in the world game – and last night he devised a
crushingly simply masterplan to frustrate, torment and
ultimately demolish Liverpool.
“If you feel that the opponent can be hurt in some parts of
their team it would be stupid not to go for that,” Hiddink
said. So he asked his more physical players to exploit
Liverpool’s zonal marking tactic at corners.
Branislav Ivanovic twice brushed Xabi Alonso aside like a
playground bully to grab headed goals.
But this wasn’t just a set-piece success.
“We worked hard to stop their weapons, Gerrard and Torres,
and the passing triangle they use with the right-back,
Arbeloa,” added Hiddink. “You have to disarm them and Essien
was the man who was key for this.”
When you say it quickly, it sounds simple. If man to man
marking the skipper is the way to suffocate Liverpool
everybody would be doing it.
It takes a very special footballer to restrict such a
special talent – but Essien is just that.
Chelsea’s big players all enjoyed outstanding evenings –
Liverpool’s didn’t – while Essien was the most influential
Even Didier Drogba finally came good, after wasting a
hat-trick of openings which could have put this tie to bed
before he finally rammed in what should prove a decisive
Liverpool failed to impress in too many areas of the field.
While Malouda marauded, Albert Riera was utterly anonymous,
where Chelsea defended resolutely, the Reds were ropey – and
when Hiddink swopped the physical presence of Drogba for the
pacy threat of Anelka, his side still looked just as potent.
Liverpool replaced Aurelio for Dossena and looked worse.
After a couple of impressive cameos in recent weeks, the
Italian looked more like the bumbling misfit who has
elicited incredulous cries of “how much?” than the man to
put the gloss on another vital victory.
Indeed the closest Dossena came to adding a fourth goal
flourish last night was a clumsy clearance he almost bundled
past Pepe Reina with Chelsea already 3-1 to the good.
It’s hard to see Chelsea handing the initiative back to
Liverpool next Tuesday, even without their skipper –
suspended for a stupid shove on Pepe Reina.
That old adage of ‘being able to concentrate on the league’
is usually a platitude, a cop out – an empty excuse for a
This season, fortunately, it still has some relevance –
which is just as well.
Because if Liverpool are still in the Champions League next
Wednesday morning it will have taken a comeback of Istanbul
proportions – and they only come around once every
So, too, – happily – do Dutch masters using Anfield as a
canvas on which to express their art.
It’s miracle time again
When the song played on the final whistle at Anfield is the
Beatles classic We Can Work It Out you know Liverpool have
big problems to overcome.
The choice of music was therefore particularly apt, if a
little optimistic, as the chances of Liverpool continuing
their march on Rome past the quarter final stage are now so
thin the bookies have made them 50/1 outsiders to win this
season’s Champions League.
It is Chelsea who have one foot in the semi-finals and only
a miraculous turnaround of Istanbul proportions will be
enough after the first leg went in favour of the London club
to such an extent that Pepe Reina ended up going up for a
late corner in the forlorn hope of reducing the deficit.
A desperate measure to go with the desperate times and
Liverpool will need more of the same at Stamford Bridge next
week if they are to stand any chance of mounting the
unlikeliest of comebacks.
Having taken an early lead through Fernando Torres, Rafa
Benitez’s men were then ruthlessly swept aside by a Chelsea
side which fully deserved to take such a commanding lead
into the second leg.
They may be the comeback kings but surely this is one
mountain which even Liverpool will not be able to climb.
Three goals are now needed at Stamford Bridge – a venue
where they have scored just five times in the last ten
seasons – if the Anfield outfit are to stand any chance of
doing what Guus Hiddink described as the “unthinkable” and
dumping Chelsea out of Europe for the third time in five
There can be no excuses for the predicament Liverpool find
themselves in either, no hard luck stories to explain how
things went so badly wrong.
The harsh truth is that on the night Chelsea were the better
side and by no little distance.
It may not sit easily on Merseyside but Chelsea’s
performance was so dominant and so complete it is hard to
recall a better one by a visiting side at Anfield in recent
Solid in defence, authoritative in midfield and creative in
attack, in a short space of time Hiddink has succeeded in
turning the Londoners back into a force to be reckoned with.
It took something of a freakish horror show from Liverpool
for them to be able to establish such a level of supremacy
though and Benitez will today be bewildered at how his team
slipped so alarmingly from the recent high standards they
have set themselves.
The three goals they shipped were totally at odds with a
side which had conceded just once in its previous five
games, particularly the two free headers which allowed
Branislav Ivanovic to become Chelsea’s unlikely hero.
Didier Drogba concluded off the scoring halfway through the
second half but had the Ivorian’s finishing been sharper
earlier on the deficit could have been even greater.
Bad days at the office do not come much worse than this one
and Liverpool are now faced with the slightly unfamiliar
scenario of having a better chance of achieving success at
home than they have abroad.
For while the European Cup may all of a sudden seem an
impossible dream, the Premier League is still a realistic
aim and for that reason manager and players must dust off
their disappointment and ensure that they are ready for
domestic duty at the weekend.
One thing which Benitez will want to work on at the training
ground is the compactness of his team as they were
uncharacteristically open against Chelsea who were able to
exploit the spaces between Liverpool’s back four and
Perhaps Liverpool were guilty of getting a little bit
carried away with themselves and believing that all sides
can be swept aside like Real Madrid were in the previous
It may not win plaudits from football’s purists but there is
nothing wrong with keeping things tight in the first leg of
a European tie, particularly against opponents who have the
character and resilience to deal with an onslaught and the
quality to exploit any openings which appear.
An early goal caused Real to buckle but it actually
galvanized Chelsea who were the better side from virtually
the moment they went behind.
Liverpool had chances at crucial moments but Dirk Kuyt and
Torres were unable to take them and the only setback the
visitors suffered was the suspension of John Terry for the
second leg after a stupid challenge on Reina.
But when you’ve brought an end to an unbeaten home record
which stretches back 32 games and 14 months such concerns
are only minor, particularly with Chelsea’s commanding lead
meaning that Terry’s absence is unlikely to alter the
expected formality of the outcome of this tie.
As those who dismissed Liverpool’s chances of winning the
title after their defeat at Middlesbrough can testify,
writing the Reds off is a risky business.
There is something about this team which means it is never
quite able to throw the towel in and accept defeat, even
when the odds are seemingly stacked so inexorably against
Put their backs to the wall and they come back fighting,
push them into a corner and they will find a way to escape
and write them off and they will soon have you eating humble
For this reason alone, Chelsea will not yet be booking their
flight to Barcelona for the semi-final but they can at least
start watching scouting videos of the Catalan giants without
fear of being over presumptuous.
Liverpool will not give up hope of causing another sensation
and with the vagaries of football meaning that anything can
and often does happen nor should they.
But first they must ensure that they get last night’s
reversal out of their system at the very first opportunity
and the only way they can do that is by beating Blackburn at
Anfield on Saturday.
Having lost just three games in the Premier and Champions
leagues so far this season they should certainly have the
belief that they can do so and if all three points are taken
it will take them back to the top of the division.
So perhaps the Anfield DJ was right, maybe Liverpool can
still work it out. It may just be that it is at home rather
than abroad that they do so.
ByJimmy Rice - LFC Official Website
Alvaro Arbeloa today had one word for
anyone who believes Liverpool are out of the Champions
Rafa Benitez's side need to score at least three goals at
Stamford Bridge next week after losing the home leg of their
Arbeloa knows it will be tough but hopes the Reds can
recreate their heroics from the 2005 Champions League final,
when they overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit to lift the
"We can do it - why not? We believe we can," the Spanish
full-back told Liverpoolfc.tv. "We have to go there and
fight, try to get one goal and then think about another.
"Liverpool won a Champions League final by scoring three
goals in 45 minutes, so why can't we get three in 90?
"I think we have to remember Istanbul and believe. We know
it's going to be difficult to beat Chelsea at Stamford
Bridge but it's not over."
Liverpool led 1-0 after six minutes thanks to a Fernando
Torres strike, but two Branislav Ivanovic headers turned the
tie on its head before Didier Drogba inflicted more pain on
Arbeloa added: "Maybe we defended too deep after the first
goal - we gave them too much of the ball. We conceded and
that was painful - and then we conceded again."
retains Reds faith
By James Dall - Sky Sports
Jose Reina has not given up on Liverpool's
chances of reaching the UEFA Champions League semi-finals
despite suffering a devastating first leg loss at home to
The Reds endured a 3-1 defeat at Anfield against their
Premier League rivals in the first meeting of their
Having netted three away goals, Chelsea are now in a
commanding position, but Liverpool goalkeeper Reina remains
optimistic of a dramatic fightback at Stamford Bridge next
The Spaniard told Sky Sports: "The game is going to be much
tougher now. We have to go to Stamford Bridge and beat them
3-1 or 3-0.
"But, as I said before, we are capable of winning at any
stadium. We know we have to put ourselves back on track and
try not to make the same mistakes."
Full-back Fabio Aurelio said: "We cannot let it [the loss]
affect us. We have been playing really well and the team has
been really confident.
"For sure, the result has been a disappointment. But we know
that we still have a chance."
Midfielder Lucas Leiva added: "We know that it is going to
be really difficult, but not impossible. We now have to
think about the Premier League, and then the second leg."
Benitez rues defensive mistakes
By Paul Hassall - LFC Official Website
Rafael Benitez was left to rue costly
defensive mistakes after Chelsea secured a commanding 3-1
lead in the first-leg of the Champions League quarter final
The Reds boss was hugely frustrated by his side's
performance after Fernando Torres' opener was cancelled out
by efforts from Branislav Ivanovic (2) and Didier Drogba.
It means Liverpool need to score three times at Stamford
Bridge to have any chance of progressing and the Spaniard
concedes it will be a tall order for his team to book a
place in the last four.
"We scored the first goal and were doing well," he told the
post-match press conference. "After that we lost control and
they had chances.
"We conceded from a corner from which we could have done
better. It is difficult to stop them because they have five
or six players who are really strong in the air. It was a
free header and that was a mistake.
"We had three players around and didn't stop him (Ivanovic).
When you have people in that zone you must control that
space but clearly we made a mistake."
Asked what he said to the players in the dressing room after
such a disappointing result, Benitez said: "We were talking
about the next game because we have an important game on
Saturday against Blackburn.
"We have to be ready for that. Then we can think about the
second game. We have to score three goals to progress. It
will be very, very difficult but we still have 90 minutes to
"We have to forget this one and start thinking about
Blackburn first and only then can we look at the second
Chelsea's response to going a goal behind saw them take on
an attacking mentality that led to three priceless away
Asked if he was caught off guard by their offensive tactics,
Benitez said: "I wasn't surprised because Chelsea are a
"They have won 11 games away in the Premier League and have
a lot of confidence and are playing well.
"You have to play really well to beat them. We started well
but after that we didn't play to our level.
"To lose any game is difficult, especially in this
competition because everyone was suggesting we had a good
"We need to forget as soon as possible. We need to think
about Blackburn and then we can concentrate on the Chelsea
Hiddink still wary of Reds
By Elliot Ball - Sky Sports
Boss Guus Hiddink has warned his Chelsea
team that Liverpool are still capable of 'unthinkable
things' after the Blues' shock 3-1 first-leg victory against
Rafael Benitez' Reds.
Wednesday's UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash saw
two of England's super-powers lock horns in what now been
regarded as their annual European double-headers.
History tells us that the team who has home advantage first,
ends up the loser and it looks like history is going to
repeat itself as Chelsea came away from Anfield the victors
thanks to a Branislav Ivanovic brace and Didier Drogba's
finish to cancel out Fernando Torres' opener.
The result leaves the Blues firmly in the driving seat going
into next Tuesday's return leg at Stamford Bridge and
Hiddink admitted it was the perfect result in his first game
When asked if the game could not have gone better, the
Chelsea man told Sky Sports: "No, especially here at
"It's very difficult always to play, so the scenario was
perfect, although when we got 1-0 down, but I must give the
compliments to the team because they react, they always
react now, that's good to see."
Wednesday's fixture saw Hiddink and Benitez pit wits against
each other for only the second-time in their careers - the
last coming when Hiddink's mighty Real Madrid battered
Benitez' lowly Extremadura 5-1 back in 1998 in the Spanish
And it was the Dutchman who took the edge in the tactical
battle this time round after nullifying the threat of
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard with Michael Essien
man-marking the Reds talisman.
But Hiddink stayed true to his claim before the match that
he would attack the Merseysiders and the Blues boss added:
"[Chelsea's plan was] not just leaning on defence to
neutralise Torres and Steve Gerrard, but to get them
sweating in their defence.
"We aimed to score and when you score three that's a
Attention now turns to Premier League action against Bolton
before Tuesday's second-leg and Hiddink believes the
full-squad of players are going to be crucial towards their
tilt for domestic and European glory.
One player who is certainly out of the return leg is John
Terry, whose booking sees him suspended for the Reds' visit
to London next week, but the Chelsea boss believes his team
will cope without their skipper.
"The schedule is tying up - every three or four days a game,
so John is not available and we have some good replacements.
But Hiddink warned his players to expect the unexpected when
Liverpool come to the capital.
He added. "We have to be very concentrated of course - it's
"If we think we can play a relaxed game, that's not what
might happen because Liverpool have shown in the past that
they can do unthinkable things, we have to avoid that.
hails 'great result'
Petr Cech hailed Chelsea's "great
advantage" after they won 3-1 at Anfield in the Champions
League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool.
Two goals from Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic and a
third from Didier Drogba put the Blues in total control of
the tie after Fernando Torres' early opener.
"I think this is a great result but it didn't start well for
us and after a few minutes we were 1-0 down, which was the
last thing we wanted, but we had a great reaction," he told
"Branislav scored important goals from set-plays - the
second arrived at the best possible time.
"The third one, they gambled and we had space on the
counter-attack. I think this is a great advantage for the
Ivanovic added: "These are my first goals (for Chelsea) and
I am very happy. We played like a team and this is great for
Cech warned his jubilant team-mates that there was still all
to play for at Stamford Bridge in next week's second leg.
"We are still at half-time and you know 3-1 is great result
at half-time, but we have to play the second half," he said.
"But now we are the favourites to go through because we have
the advantage. It will be very hard for them to score three
for bloodied Reds
By Chris Stanton - Setanta Sports
Branislav Ivanovic was the unlikeliest of
heroes in a 3-1 win for Chelsea at Anfield, as The Blues
pinned Liverpool’s shoulders to the mat for the
one-two-three that may be every bit as decisive as the count
would suggest in a Champions League quarter final tie of
Familiarity has bred contempt but rather than the awkward
impasse that usually accompanies occasions such as these,
Chelsea dazzled, imposing their personality on a match that
sprang to vivid life. It ended with the team in blue
planting a foot in the tournament's semi-finals and their
opponents in red checking other body parts for irreparable
We came expecting a chess match but got instead a contest
with steel chairs.
Liverpool clobbered Chelsea over the head as early as the
sixth minute when Fernando Torres shot home.
The visitors shuddered momentarily but recovered full use of
their faculties and though Ivanovic, twice exposing
Liverpool’s zonal marking from corners in scoring his first
goals for The Blues, was the surprise assailant, that is not
to suggest his team were not worthy winners.
Didier Drogba's third goal struck 23 minutes from time was
the most crushing of blows.
The performance of Guus Hiddink’s side, from the containing
qualities of Michael Essien to the interminable threat of
Drogba, was all the more remarkable given the concession of
such an early goal.
After Ivanovic’s loose clearance, Dirk Kuyt played the ball
wide to Alvaro Arbeloa and his slid cross was finished from
10 yards in the consummate fashion that is Torres’s
Chelsea could have silenced Liverpool cheers almost
immediately. Salomon Kalou put Fabio Aurelio under pressure
and when the full back was unable to keep possession, the
Chelsea wideman teed up Drogba who had only Jose Reina to
beat. The Spaniard was out quickly, but the Ivorian hedged
his bets and shot straight, at the place where Reina stood
The normally cagey first leg that had been anticipated was
replaced by two teams who seemed intent on settling the
contest in the first 15 minutes of the first half of the
Florent Malouda fired wide at one end, while, at the other,
Lampard was dispossessed by Torres who, with no support,
turned inside before bending a hopeful shot at goal that
cleared Cech’s crossbar by a yard.
Drogba missed another two to bring his side level in the
28th minute. Michael Ballack’s coaxed pass gave the Ivorian
another unobstructed view of Reina’s goal, but, on his
less-favoured left foot, the striker cracked a shot over the
Arbeloa cut inside on to his weaker left foot and curled a
shot wide, but the visitors were the more impressive in
attack and deservedly drew level six minutes before
half-time when Ivanovic exposed Liverpool’s zonal marking
system from a corner to head past Reina from six yards.
Just as Chelsea had the opportunity to stick cheers in
collective throats though, so Kuyt could have regained the
lead for his team only to be denied by a save from Cech.
The suspicion that the first half might have been an
aberration outside of the tactical control of messrs Hiddink
and Benitez was quickly dismissed. Wednesday's match was no
place for cynics.
On one rare occasion when Steven Gerrard circumnavigated the
near impenetrable wall built by Michael Essien, Liverpool's
captain shot wide.
Drogba was running in on goal for a third time in the 53rd
minute but, like the previous two occasions, failed to
capitalise. After Aurelio’s misplaced pass had given the
Ivorian his unexpected opportunity, his scuffed shot that
beat Reina was cleared from the line by Jamie Carragher.
The same shooting inaccuracy proved contagious as Torres
also skied a very presentable opening.
John Terry received an unwarranted yellow card that will
rule him out of the second leg shortly before the hour mark
after colliding headfirst with the torso of Reina.
Injustice evaporated almost immediately, though, as his team
took the lead through Ivanovic’s second goal of the game.
Again he exposed Liverpool’s marking from a corner, heading
home emphatically from an inswinging Lampard delivery.
Rafa Benitez needed to take action and was calling on his
team’s latest matchwinner, Yossi Benayoun, midway through
the half, but unbeknown to the Spaniard, the match – and
possibly the tie - was about to be decided.
Chelsea’s football was again too good as Ballack's ball down
the line was weighted perfectly for Florent Malouda who slid
a ball across the goal for a rampaging Drogba to bury
Understandably content with their lot, Hiddink’s side sat
back for the final 15 minutes but retained a threat on the
break, not least when Drogba’s lofted cross was eyed by both
Reina and substitute Andrea Dossena.
The arrival of runaway train Ryan Babel for the lamentable
Lucas Leiva 10 minutes from time was long overdue but it
failed to lift Liverpool’s crushed spirit and Lampard might
even have added a flattering fourth had Reina not been out
Battered and bruised, Liverpool have just six days to shrug
off the effects of a punishing 90 minutes before next week's
second leg at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea's lead has the
appearance of something insurmountable.