|Wednesday 7th January 2004
Stamford Bridge, London
CHELSEA 0-1 LIVERPOOL
|After this game: Pos 5th Pl 19 Pts 29|
|MATCH REPORT - Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool|
The three-horse race suddenly has a back-marker.
Liverpool may not win the Premiership this season but Gerard Houllier's side still inflicted a serious blow on Chelsea's own title ambitions.
In a measure of revenge for their defeat last season at Stamford Bridge, which took Champions League football away from Anfield, Liverpool secured a hard-earned victory to revive their own fortunes.
It could have been worse for Chelsea. After all, Everton's equaliser against Arsenal at least ensured that the Gunners are still just four points ahead of Claudio Ranieri's side.
However, Manchester United are now clear leaders, with a seven-point advantage over the Blues, and this was Chelsea's fourth defeat in their past seven games.
If the pressure was growing on Houllier before this game, it has now been transferred to Ranieri, whose broad shoulders are burdened by his side's recent dip in fortunes.
Liverpool had seized the lead on 33 minutes through the unlikely figure of Bruno Cheyrou, who was picked for only his second start of the season as Michael Owen was left on the bench.
Cheyrou took the chance to score his first Premiership goal with dramatic effect and the visitors were even able to survive the late sending-off of El-Hadji Diouf.
Their victory was understandably met with considerable satisfaction by the long-suffering Liverpool fans.
After all, while Chelsea have prospered ever since last season's victory, Liverpool's frustrations have continued.
Indeed, the two teams' respective fortunes seemed to be reflected in their tactical approaches, with Emile Heskey up front on his own, while Joe Cole was employed at the attacking edge of a midfield diamond for Chelsea.
However, Chelsea lacked the attacking conviction of their coach, who was forced into a change as early as the 12th minute, when Hernan Crespo limped off to be replaced by Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The home side were by no means in control of the game, either before or after that switch, with chances at a premium in a largely insipid opening spell.
Claude Makelele's persistence then teed up Cole on the edge of the penalty area and his neat flick fell to Gudjohnsen, who swivelled to volley the ball just wide.
However, Liverpool were finally inspired into action, with Cheyrou just failing to take advantage of his first chance as John Terry, who was carrying a knock, failed to cut out a cross.
It was not a mistake that the French international, who was playing just behind Heskey, made again when another opening came his way just two minutes later.
On this occasion, he exchanged neat flicks with Heskey before charging into the penalty area and meeting the England international's guided cross with a first-time finish as Terry floundered.
Chelsea were stunned and they attempted to hit back immediately with Cole and Lampard both going close, but they were still struggling to make any real impact.
Ranieri abandoned his diamond formation, with Cole moved out to the left flank and Lampard restored to the centre of a midfield quartet.
Lampard soon delivered a long-range effort from the edge of the penalty area but it was saved by Jerzy Dudek and Chelsea's approach play continued to be ponderous.
With Damien Duff still out injured, they were lacking width or penetration, so Ranieri turned instead to Jesper Gronkjaer instead of Cole.
The decision was not appreciated by many fans, while the absence of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from the bench removed another possible option for the Italian.
Heskey, meanwhile, was continuing to bustle away effectively on his own, showing some aggression for once, including a foul on Gallas, which earned him a booking.
Liverpool nevertheless refused to buckle, even in the face of a nervous final spell as Chelsea pressed increasingly desperately for an equaliser.
Adrian Mutu headed a corner by Geremi against the face of the bar from point-blank range and was denied by a superb block at his feet by substitute keeper Luzi, who had replaced Dudek with 14 minutes left.
Liverpool were reduced to 10 men for the last three minutes as Diouf, who had earlier been booked, was shown a second yellow card for tangling with Mutu and fiercely protested his innocence before leaving the pitch.
However, even though Owen had not even made it off the bench, his side's fortunes had still taken a dramatic twist. So too, however, had Chelsea's.
Chelsea Cudicini, Johnson, Gallas, Terry, Bridge, Makelele, Lampard, Cole (Gronkjaer 62), Geremi, Crespo (Gudjohnsen 12), Mutu.
Subs Not Used: Sullivan, Babayaro, Desailly.
Liverpool Dudek (Luzi Bernardi 77), Henchoz, Hyypia, Traore, Biscan, Diouf, Murphy, Hamann, Cheyrou (Riise 77), Heskey, Kewell.
Subs Not Used: Smicer, Owen, Le Tallec.
Sent Off: Diouf (87).
Booked: Heskey, Diouf.
Ref: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).
Gerard Houllier's post-match verdict
Claudio Ranieri 's post-match verdict
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|Match Report filed: 17th January 2004|