Champions League – Ivanovic hands advantage to Chelsea
A Branislav Ivanovic brace inspired Chelsea to a 3-1 win in an open and entertaining first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie with Liverpool at Anfield.
The Serb defender, who was only in the side due to the absence of the injured Jose Bosingwa, headed home from almost identical corners in each half to cancel out an early Fernando Torres opener.
Didier Drogba sealed a magnificent victory for the Blues with a 67th-minute strike to put Chelsea firmly in the driving seat ahead of next week’s return leg at Stamford Bridge.
Given the competition history between the two sides – which included three goalless draws and three 1-0 wins in eight previous fixtures – another cagey, low-scoring affair was expected.
Thankfully, it was nothing of the sort as the two sides – both bang in form heading into the match – took the game to each other to create a free-flowing, entertaining encounter that was filled with incident.
It was Liverpool who sounded their intentions loud and clear early on, with Dirk Kuyt firing a sweetly-struck shot goalwards after just three minutes. Only a deflection ensured Petr Cech did not have to make a save.
The opener arrived soon after and while Chelsea were stunned to concede so early, the identity of the scorer came as no surprise. Still brimming with confidence after his demolition job on European champions Manchester United in the Premier League last month, Torres finished wonderfully from Alvaro Arbeloa’s right-wing cross after good work by Kuyt.
Kalou played a cute ball through for his compatriot to run on to but Drogba made an uncharacteristically poor decision, opting to go for power instead of accuracy as Jose Reina came out to narrow the angle. The striker’s blasted shot hit the Spanish keeper on the chest and bounced away to safety.
The remainder of the first half ebbed and flowed as Chelsea went in search of an equaliser and Liverpool threatened to extend their lead. Torres and Arbeloa went close for the hosts while Florent Malouda and Drogba menaced at the other end.
But the turning point of the game – and perhaps the defining moment of the tie – came on 39 minutes when Ivanovic escaped the shackles of Xabi Alonso, got in between two defenders and met a corner with a firm header past Reina. It was the makeshift right-back’s first goal in a Chelsea shirt.
Another goal nearly arrived immediately after, this time Kuyt racing through only for Cech to come out and deny the Dutchman – and keep Chelsea in it.
If Rafael Benitez and his opposite number Guus Hiddink were expecting a more sedate second half, they would have been disappointed as the cut and thrust of the opening period continued unabated after the break.
First, on 50 minutes, Drogba saw a scuffed shot spectacularly cleared off the line by the sliding Jamie Carragher before Torres then skied an effort over the bar in much the same fashion as the Ivorian had in the first half.
But the profligacy in front of goal was not to last as Ivanovic netted his second of the night and his Chelsea career on 62 minutes.
It was almost a carbon copy of his first – a damning indictment of Liverpool’s sloppy marking from corners and apparent inability to learn from mistakes.
Five minutes later, and Chelsea secured victory on the night through Drogba’s close range finish following a lovely passing move to which Liverpool simply had no answer.
Chelsea could even have had a fourth, and Reina was forced into saving from Lampard in the last minute to prevent the tie completely slipping out of Liverpool’s reach.
The one black mark on an otherwise jubilant night for Chelsea was the booking of John Terry for a head-first challenge on Reina. The Chelsea and England captain will now miss the return leg next Tuesday.
But with Ivanovic set to replace him in his more familiar central role and with the score firmly in Chelsea’s favour, the Blues skipper’s impending absence may not be too keenly felt.