Berger paints Chelsea blue
A smouldering sense of injustice allied to their opponents' continuing lack of discipline yesterday helped Liverpool remind those above them in the table that their challenge may not be quite so distant after all. As it is, a 4-2 victory over Chelsea, reversing last season's FA Cup defeat, has restored Roy Evans's team to the top half-dozen.
Apart from scoring his first hat-trick for Liverpool, Patrik Berger produced an all-round performance of pace, perception and prodigious effort which gave Evans's side the impact which, for all their patience and pretty passing patterns, this team quite often lack. For all Steve McManaman's angled dashes past defenders, the pony-tailed Czech was the central figure yesterday.
For the third time this season, Chelsea finished with 10 men because of a red card and for the second time, the player to go was a Frenchman. With Frank Leboeuf suspended following his sending-off against Arsenal a fortnight earlier, Bernard Lambourde, Leboeuf's replacement in the middle of the defence, was booked by David Elleray for fouling Karlheinz Riedle on the quarter-hour, then dismissed for bringing down McManaman 10 minutes later.
In the subsequent reorganisation, which saw Ruud Gullit bring himself on for Gianfranco Zola with the score at 1-1, whatever hope Chelsea might have had of winning at Anfield in the league for only the second time in 61 years all but disappeared. Chelsea continued to pass the ball well, but their attack, for all Mark Hughes's strength in possession, had lost its principle cutting edge.
Gullit's reason for the sacrifice of Zola, his most likely match-winner even when a man short, was that the Italian was a short man, too short in fact to hold the ball up as a lone striker. Yet the number of scoring opportunities Chelsea created during the last 25 minutes after they had gone 4-1 down suggested that Zola should have stayed on longer.
The sending-off of Lambourde was the least controversial incident in a match which, at times, seethed with argument, much as Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford had done 11 days before.
Chelsea, for instance, had cause to feel hard done by five minutes before half-time when they were refused a penalty after Rob Jones appeared to barge into Gustavo Poyet from behind in full view of the Kop.
The Kop, however, was not letting on and in any case, had long since decided that Elleray owed them a compensating error. Certainly the goal with which Chelsea drew level barely two minutes after falling behind was a worthy addition to the lengthening list of refereeing aberrations.
After a tentative start, Liverpool nearly took the lead on 15 minutes when Stig Bjornebye's centre from the left found Riedle rising above everyone at the far post to produce a firm header which Ed De Goey managed to tip over the bar. Four minutes later, the awkward bounce of a long ball from Paul Ince deceived Graeme Le Saux and Berger lobbed De Goey with a coolness that was soon forgotten amid the white Anfield anger that followed.
As Poyet fed the ball through to Zola, who was on-side, Hughes, running back from an offside position, appeared to foul Bjorn Kvarme when the Norwegian tried to get across to intercept the danger. Elleray glanced at his linesman for offside, but the flag stayed down, no free-kick was given, and Zola, keeping his balance beautifully after David James had half-blocked him, ran the ball into an empty net as the crowd erupted.
Evans called it "a diabolical non-decision". Gullit recalled that when Nigel Winterburn scored Arsenal's winner at Stamford Bridge, Dennis Wise had been similarly obstructed. Either way, the early departure of Lambourde and Berger's hunger for more goals quickly improved Anfield's humour.
Eleven minutes before halftime, Bjornebye exchanged passes with McManaman before crossing low from the left-hand byline for Berger's right foot, for once, to complete the best move of the afternoon. Three minutes before the hour, a pass from McManaman caught Chelsea flat as pancakes at the back and Berger rounded De Goey to score Liverpool's third. Six minutes later, Robbie Fowler added a fourth from Berger's return pass.
The ease with which Chelsea, having added Tore Andre Flo to their attack, then began to get behind Liverpool's defence suggested a rather tighter result had they retained a full complement of players. Gullit himself should have scored, but fell over and eventually, Poyet alleviated Chelsea's gloom with a penalty after Flo had been brought down by Jason McAteer, who replaced Jones at half-time.
After the match, the Dutchman was fuming over the clear penalty the controversy-plagued referee failed to give. The decision denied Gullit's men a second leveller before the break, when Rob Jones went through Gustavo Poyet from behind.
"It was definitely a penalty - and it cost us the game," declared Gullit. "If he had given that penalty, it would have been 2-2 at halftime and a totally different game. I'm not saying we wouldn't have lost, but we would have been able to have a different approach."
The win took Liverpool up five places from 11th to sixth, where they are now a point behind Chelsea. At times yesterday, Anfield saw signs of the things that need to happen if their championship aspirations are to be seriously renewed. Judgment, however, should wait until Liverpool start putting results together, and preferably against teams with 11 men.
liverpool: James, Jones (McAteer 46), Kvarme, Babb, McManaman, Fowler, Riedle, Berger, Ince, Bjornebye, Carragher. Subs Not Used: Harkness, Thomas, Owen, Nielson. Booked: Ince, McAteer. Goals: Berger 20, 35, 57, Fowler 64.
Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu (Flo 60), Clarke, Lambourde, Poyet, Hughes, Wise, Le Saux, Di Matteo, Sinclair, Zola (Gullit 27). Subs Not Used: Babayaro, Vialli, Hitchcock. Sent Off: Lambourde (26). Booked: Lambourde, Wise, Petrescu. Goals: Poyet 85 pen, Zola 22.
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).