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Penalty ignites Benitez feud with Mourinho

Penalty ignites Benitez feud with Mourinho

By Tim Rich
Last Updated: 1:21am BST 20/08/2007

Liverpool (1) 1 Chelsea (0) 1

The voice of Anfield's Tannoy announcer was almost choked with glee. "I just want to point out that this is Manchester United's worst start to the season in 15 years," he shouted. They talk a lot about history at Liverpool but, had they checked, they would have discovered that the 1992-93 season finished with Sir Alex Ferguson winning his first Premier League title.

You can tell little by beginnings, but this was a match that showed the balance of power in the Premier League is very slowly shifting under the patent leather shoes of the big clubs. On Chelsea's last two visits to Anfield, they had seen their hopes of a third Premier League and a first European Cup final drain away, and now they limped home to London grateful for a point.

 Penalty ignites Benitez feud with Mourinho
You cannot be serious: Jamie Carrager remonstrates with referee Rob Styles after the penalty award

Having turned down a firm commitment to come to Merseyside, citing the Ashley Cole argument that a few thousand extra a week would make a significant difference to a millionaire lifestyle, Rafael Benitez had little love for Florent Malouda.

The Liverpool manager would have even less desire to resume his summer conversations with the French winger as he attempted to dummy Shaun Wright-Phillips' cross and collided with Steve Finnan. The ball rolled out to an unmarked Didier Drogba, no Chelsea player appealed, Rob Styles, standing a few yards away, indicated a penalty. It was a dreadful decision, although not quite as ridiculous as one the referee was to make later in the game when he did not send off Michael Essien despite showing him a second yellow card.

Significantly, Mourinho did not attempt to defend the penalty, except to argue that Chelsea had suffered so many setbacks at Anfield, including Luis Garcia's "ghost goal" in the 2005 European Cup semi-final, that they deserved some fortune.

It was a curiously similar penalty to the one Malouda had won in the World Cup final, the one Zinedine Zidane had clipped home via an Italian crossbar. Frank Lampard converted, but, thereafter, a point appeared to be the limit of Chelsea's ambitions on a ground where they had won 4-1 in October 2005.

When Benitez threw on Peter Crouch, Mourinho responded with a defender, Alex. "When I saw their giant come off the bench I thought it was time to bring my giant on," he said. "But we tried to win for 85 minutes. We never play here with our ideal team; last year I had to use Michael Essien as a centre half."

Then, Essien had been all but humiliated. This time by pressing him into service as a right back Mourinho deprived himself of his likeliest candidate to win him the midfield. He was also extremely fortunate to finish the game. Essien had already been booked when, not for the first time, Tal Ben-Haim proved unable to cope with the pace of Fernando Torres. John Terry was booked for protesting and so, too, was Essien for a second time.

Significantly, Chelsea were stretched almost to breaking point by two men who had rejected their money, Torres and Steven Gerrard. Benitez's policy of risking the broken toe his captain sustained in Toulouse and pulling him out of England's friendly with Germany was absolutely vindicated in one sumptuous pass that released all of Torres' pace and skill.

It may be time to end the speculation that had Mourinho signed Ben Haim from Bolton in January he might have salvaged Chelsea's title. The Israeli blundered in, was wrong-footed and looked up to see Torres slide his shot past Petr Cech.

The equaliser, however, would have done nothing to ease the dislike Benitez feels for Mourinho. When reminded of the Chelsea manager's observation that his were a "pure, naive team", Benitez quipped that if that were true, he was Little Red Riding Hood. There is no doubt whom he sees as the Big Bad Wolf.

When congratulating Chelsea for breaking Liverpool's record of 63 unbeaten home matches set in the days of Bob Paisley, he talked of Claudio Ranieri, under whom the run began, and Roman Abramovitch, who had paid for it. Mourinho, who had supervised most of Stamford Bridge's triumphs, was mentioned not at all.

Man of the match: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) 9 • Assist for Torres' goal • 82% accurate passes • Completed 80% successful passes


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