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Saturday, Oct. 1, 2005

PREMIER REPORT

Liverpool-Chelsea rematch unlikely to feature many thrills


LONDON -- Sequels are rarely as good as the original but English football is hoping Sunday's Premiership showdown between Liverpool and Chelsea is better than the goal-less, soul-less Champions League draw at Anfield on Wednesday night.

Christopher Davies

Four days can be a long time in football and with much negative comment about the quality of the Premiership in the opening weeks of the season, a game worthy of two of England's biggest clubs would do much to wipe away the belief that the game has become boring.

Same venue, same teams, different competition but breath should not be held for rip-roaring entertainment from Anfield.

Chelsea tends to adopt a pragmatic approach to all matches, manager Jose Mourinho unbothered about entertainment, only the pursuit of victory.

Liverpool's Rafael Benitez knows his team -- one win, four draws and three goals in the Premiership -- cannot afford to lose and may again adopt the European tactics that have proved successful for his side.

It seems there are two Liverpools -- the one that rises to the occasion and wins against the odds in the Champions League and the other that struggles to find similar consistency in domestic football.

The midweek encounter was more strength than skill, more power than pace with only four shots on target during the entire 90 minutes. While no manager can afford to be gung-ho, the Champions League tie was more like a game of chess -- wonderful from a coaching and tactical perspective but a match that finished without trace.

Chelsea's much vaunted wingers Damien Duff and Arjen Robben were effectively controlled by a committed Liverpool back four, while at the other end John Terry was again an inspiration for the visitors.

It was an attacking stalemate and though both defenses were superbly organized, there was little imagination in midfield and the impotency of the respective attacks made one wonder how the teams have achieved so much without a top-class center-forward between them.

Chelsea either starts with Didier Drogba and brings on Hernan Crespo or vice versa.

Neither has really stamped his mark on the Premiership.

Liverpool paid £7 million to Southampton for Peter Crouch, but the 2-meter tall striker too often looks a head on legs, a player unlikely to trouble the best -- or even the second best -- defenses in Europe.

Benitez, who failed in his bid to bring Michael Owen back to Anfield, has Djibril Cisse and the regularly unfit Fernando Morientes as dubious alternatives.

Referee Graham Poll, who will be England's representative at the 2006 World Cup finals, will be aware of a few simmering feuds that seem to develop when sides play twice in such a short period. With only a four-day cooling off period there is no time to forgive let alone forget.

Xabi Alonso is likely to be singled out as Liverpool's danger man again and how Chelsea deals with the Spaniard's ability to run at opponents will be interesting and, hopefully, legitimate.

Sunday's match will be the seventh in a year between the teams -- Chelsea has won three and drawn two of those games. Liverpool's lone success came in what many perceive as the most crucial matchup -- a 1-0 victory at Anfield in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals.

This clearly rankles Mourinho, the Portuguese brash and evocative in comparison to his Spanish counterpart Benitez who is more quietly spoken.

Mourinho was dismissive of Liverpool's direct style in getting the ball to Crouch, saying: "As opponents we don't have to like it or not, but we have to cope with it. Liverpool didn't create much danger with that way of play."

Even before Wednesday's game, Mourinho tried to gain the psychological upper hand, apparently unaware that he said about Liverpool could be said about Chelsea.

"Liverpool is a team you cannot trust because they don't play with an open heart," said Mourinho. "They just wait for other teams to make mistakes. But they are very well organized."

If Mourinho wants to know why Chelsea is respected and admired but not loved by the neutral, it is for the capacity to soak up pressure without taking risks of its own.

However, perhaps in football, as in life, we recognize faults in others that we refuse to admit are also our own.

WAYNE ROONEY will meet up with the referee who sent him off after the Manchester United striker sarcastically applauded him for an initial yellow card against Villarreal in the Champions League when England plays Poland on Wednesday week.

Kim Milton Nielsen cautioned Rooney for a foul and when the player applauded the decision, the United forward saw red. As he left the field, Rooney swore at the Danish referee who reported this to UEFA who in turn handed the player a two-match European ban.

Rooney is already suspended for England's next group tie against Austria on Oct. 8 at Old Trafford, having picked up his second booking of the qualifying campaign against Northern Ireland, where was fortunate not to be sent off.

Having followed a dangerous tackle on Keith Gillespie with another reckless foul on Chris Baird, Rooney responded to captain David Beckham's warnings to calm down with another four-letter outburst.

When -- or indeed if -- the penny ever drops with Rooney and he realizes his aggression should be channeled into a more positive rather than confrontational tact remains to be seen. The belief is that Sir Alex Ferguson is the right manager to do this, though, he was also the man who memorably kicked a boot at David Beckham's head.

ONE OF THE most original of nicknames has been given to Kiki Musampa of Manchester City.

The previous best, by general consensus, is that of Crystal Palace defender Fitz Hall who is called One Size.

Musampa is known as Chris. Chris Musampa. You may need to say it two or three times . . .

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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