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Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009

Chelsea deals heavy blow to Liverpool's championship aspirations

LONDON (AP) Chelsea inflicted Liverpool's third loss of the Premier League season on Sunday to reclaim first place from Manchester United and seriously undermine the Reds' hopes of a first championship crown in 20 years.

Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda scored in the second half to secure a 2-0 victory that gives Chelsea a two-point lead over United, which dropped points Saturday when it drew at home with Sunderland.

"We lost to Wigan, so it was important to win today and beat a direct opponent for the title," Drogba said. "Tactically it was a very good game for both teams. It's good to go to the international break with these points and be top of the league."

Going into the two-week international break Liverpool is fifth, six points adrift of Chelsea, having already lost more times after eight games than the whole of last season when Liverpool finished second.

Not since United in 1966-7 has a team lost three of its opening eight matches and still won the championship.

But manager Rafa Benitez believes Liverpool's losses won't harm his side's title quest as long as they avoid too many draws after being held 11 times last season.

"We have to keep calm and working hard to improve, focusing on the next game," Benitez said. "This year the top sides will lose points against the other teams.

"We will try to win and as long as we don't draw as many games as last year we should be OK. It's a long race."

Chelsea, which lost twice to Liverpool last season for the first time in 20 years, took 25 minutes to assert itself and test goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

But after headers from Didier Drogba and Anelka the pressure from the Londoners was relentless.

Chelsea's main threat continued to come from the air with Michael Ballack also coming close with a 34th-minute header from a Deco free kick.

A flurry of Liverpool attacks toward the end of the first-half suggested the visitors might get a breakthrough.

With Petr Cech suspended after being sent off in Chelsea's loss to Wigan last weekend, Hilario was in goal and did well to block a downward close-range header from Fernando Torres. And while he was late to react to an Albert Riera free kick, the Portuguese 'keeper managed to turn the low 40-meter strike wide.

After the break, apart from a swerving shot from Steven Gerrard, it was the Blues who imposed themselves on the game and they finally broke the deadlock in the 60th minute.

Midfielder Frank Lampard stole the ball from Javier Mascherano inside Chelsea's half, and the Blues rapidly broke forward before Drogba whipped in a precision cross that Anelka swept into the roof of the net.

"When you make a mistake against a good team, you pay for it. We lost the ball and they scored," Benitez said. "They have quality. It is not easy to stop every single attack."

Sevilla tops Real

MADRID (AP) Sevilla beat a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Real Madrid 2-1 on Sunday to end the Spanish powerhouse's unbeaten start to the season.

Renato was left unmarked to turn in Adriano's 66th-minute cross for the winner in front of 45,500 fans at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.

Jesus Navas opened the scoring for Sevilla in the 33rd, charging into the area to head Fernando Navarro's floated cross home at the far post. Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas then made two point-blank saves to keep Madrid in the game.

A momentary lapse by Sevilla three minutes into the second half allowed Pepe to head home an equalizer against the run of play.

Sevilla joined Madrid on 15 points, three behind Barcelona, which has started the season with six straight wins.

"We have to improve a lot," Madrid midfielder Kaka told Canal Plus TV.

"It was a very intense game. We also created lots of chances but we were up against a team that doesn't let you make mistakes."

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