Chelsea found themselves atop the league once more heading into the international break, courtesy of a hugely impressive 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, one that further dents Liverpool’s title aspirations, even at this early stage of the season.
The Blues were missing Petr Cech (suspended) and Jose Bosingwa (injured), so the popular Hilario started between the sticks, whilst Branislav Ivanovic was at right back. Surprisingly, Ancelotti chose Deco to support Anelka and Drogba in attack, with Lampard dropping deeper and Malouda on the bench.
Liverpool was as expected, so there was no return to the starting line-up for Dan Agger, whilst Mascherano was partnered by Lucas in midfield. Riera started on the left, with the in form Yossi Benayoun on the bench.
Refreshingly, neither team opted to sit back from the onset. Gerrard was prominent early, sadly for Liverpool he was to fade out as he so often does against Chelsea. Liverpool declined to test Hilario from any range whatsoever, so it was left to Reina to execute the first piece of goalkeeping action, saving a looping header from Drogba as the Ivorian and Ballack went up at the back post together.
Soon after, Anelka squandered a far more presentable opportunity. The French forward made a run between Skrtel and Carragher and managed to get on the end of a teasing Essien cross. In space, Anelka should have done better than direct his header straight at Reina. Up the other end, Torres had a similar opportunity, and likewise he could only direct his header at the goalkeeper, Hilario.
Chelsea were on top as the half hour ticked over, and when a corner was cleared in the thirty-eighth minute, Essien needed no invitation to hit a stinging left foot volley. It was blocked, but the Ghanaian got a second chance, this time hitting a strike low and hard and forcing Reina to save.
Just before half time, Albert Riera struck a free kick centrally towards the corner, which forced Hilario to react brilliantly, having assumed Ballack would clear the danger. When he did not, our Portuguese reserve keeper plunged low to his right to make a spectacular stop.
The second half started with a rare sight, that of Ivanovic launching a thirty yard effort at goal, which Reina did well to hold. Chelsea’s continual pressure meant that a goal was in the offing, and when it arrived, it did so in breathtaking style.
Lampard, so effective in a deeper position, won the ball back from Mascherano. He then fed Essien, who stormed forward and found the advancing Deco, who spread the ball wide left to Drogba. With all the precision of Duff or Robben in their pomp, Drogba threaded an inch perfect left foot cross between Carragher and Reina, leaving Anelka at the back post to finish with a wonderfully composed right footed touch.
Benitez reacted to this by replacing the ineffective Riera with Benayoun. The visitors enjoyed more possession now, as they chased the game. Nonetheless, Essien was keeping a close eye on Gerrard, and likewise Carvalho and Terry were doing a sterling job on Fernando Torres.
With fifteen minutes to go, both sides made a substitution, Liverpool replacing Lucas with Ryan Babel and Chelsea replacing Deco with Malouda. It had been an impressive performance from the little Portuguese player.
Liverpool spurned a golden chance though, with ten minutes remaining. Gerrard found himself in the area, only to see his shot charged down by the heroic Terry. Somehow, the ball squeezed out to Torres, who on the edge of the box, shanked his left footed finish wide of Hilario’s goal, to sighs of relief from the Chelsea faithful.
Stoppage time arrived, and yet there was no let up in the action. Indeed, Chelsea doubled their lead, through an immense display of power from Drogba. Controlling a Lampard free kick on the right of the area, he shimmied past Aurelio, before absolutely monstering the hapless Carragher. Despite having his shirt tugged, he managed to cut the ball back to Malouda who slid the ball home from a few yards.
Chelsea fans couldn’t breath easily yet, as Benayoun missed a sitter up the other end, before Gerrard hit a peach of a volley, only to be stopped by a flying save from the exceptional Hilario. The Portuguese goalkeeper won man of the match accolades for his flawless performance. Full time was fittingly sounded after a towering Terry clearance, setting the scene for jubilant celebration from those in blue, a deserved victory sending Ancelotti’s Chelsea back to the top of the league.
Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Hilario; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien, Ballack, Lampard; Deco (Malouda 75), Anelka; Drogba.
Unused subs: Turnbull, Belletti, Zhirkov, J Cole, Kalou, Sturridge.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua (Aurelio 81); Lucas (Babel 75), Mascherano; Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera (Benayoun 66); Torres
Unused subs: Cavalieri, Agger, Kyrgiakos, N’Gog.
Manager Rafa Benitez.
Referee Martin Atkinson.