A night for the unlikely lads

AS POOR as Chelsea were at Stamford Bridge last night, they still retain an edge over a Liverpool side denied the creativity of Xabi Alonso for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Ever the pragmatist, Jose Mourinho will extract considerable solace from his side’s most impotent home display of the season, not least the visitors’ inability to prise a precious away goal.

Mourinho will also feel vindicated in his view that Claude Makelele and not Frank Lampard is the lionheart of the Premiership champions-elect. And he may also say a silent ‘obrigado’ to his predecessor, Claudio Ranieri, for bringing the 32-year-old French ‘water carrier’ to west London.

Not even the prayers of Real Madrid patriarch Alfredo di Stefano could convince its eccentric club president Florentino Perez of Makelele’s worth. While Perez lined the wallets of his galacticos, he was under-whelmed by Makelele’s Gallic graft, paying him €14,000 per week, a fifth of Zinedine Zidane’s salary.

Di Stefano regularly visited the club chapel to implore a higher authority to keep Makelele fit during his time in Spain, but Perez happily accepted Chelsea’s seemingly exorbitant £16.6m for “the invisible man”.

Last night, Makelele’s contribution was starkly evident, if only because the creative elements like Lampard and Gerrard were laughably ineffectual.

Makelele hoovered up everything in front of his centre halves, as he has done in all but two of Chelsea’s 34 Premiership games. To the tutored eye of Juventus coach Fabio Capello, he is the one player Chelsea cannot do without.

His influence on the second leg at Anfield will be equally, if not more pronounced, holding the midfield shape while Lampard, Gudjohnsen and the returning Duff, or Cole, go in search of the goal that will send Chelsea to Istanbul next month.

Explains his former colleague at Madrid, Steve McManaman: “From day one it was obvious to the players that he was a crucial feature of the team. But because he doesn’t score 20 goals or beat six men, he’ll never get the credit he deserves.

“When he moved to Chelsea people said ‘he’s invisible, he doesn’t do anything’, but the likes of Lampard had a fantastic season because Claude was winning the ball and passing it neatly to him. He’s an unfussy, horrible to play against engine-room player. When we trained, his reading of the game was so good that you couldn’t get past him. His role is to break things up, the players appreciate him - it’s impossible to overstate his importance to Chelsea.”

Ranieri knew he had invested shrewdly. “When I saw Real Madrid play, I told myself that there is a great player in this team. I went to tell Roman Abramovich I would like to buy Makelele. Everything at Real goes around him. Sometimes you wonder: Where is Makelele? But he’s always at the right place at the right time to help everybody. He can link up with anybody. He’s a real playmaker.’”

Packed into a slight 1.73-metre frame, Makelele is a wonderfully-balanced athlete with massive upper-body strength. Says his former Stamford Bridge colleague Mario Melchiot: “He is like an engine in a car - if you don’t have an engine, the car will not drive. That is the feeling he brings to this team. He has got everything.”

Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher will never pretend that he brings anything but Scouse grit to Rafa Benitez’s side. It may be rare for such orthodox wares to prevail at such an advanced stage of Europe’s top competition, but it allowed the likes of Makelele and Carragher emerge as heroes on a night of howlers.

The chattering classes on Merseyside have it that Gerrard’s departure from Anfield will see the captain’s armband pass to Carragher, and not a moment too soon in the eyes of the Red hordes.

One desperate intervention to deny Kezman summed up the attitude of a player too rare in today’s times - one more interested in his birthplace than bank balance. How he must have winced at the pathetic efforts of some of his foreign team-mates last night.

It was a night for blue collar industry and unlikely heroes - an outbreak of football would be a welcome bonus for the second leg.

Chelsea ratings:

PETR CECH: An early save from Riise and a brilliant one to deny Baros underlined his credentials as one of the world’s best ‘keepers (8)

GLEN JOHNSON: had problems dealing with Riise and generally looked the weakest link in the Chelsea side (4)

RICARDO CARVALHO: another no-nonsense display alongside Terry at the heart of the Liverpool defence (6)

JOHN TERRY: as authoritative a performance as you would expect from the Players’ Player of the Year (6)

WILLIAM GALLAS: an impressive 90 minutes as he inhibited Garcia and also offered Chelsea some badly-need width going forward (7)

CLAUDE MAKELELE: used the ball simply, and made some telling interceptions: another typical night at the office for Mr Dependable (7)

JOE COLE: tricky, lively, hard-working and early on caused Liverpool repeated problems, although faded in the second half (6)

FRANK LAMPARD: industrious as ever in midfield but the sitter missed after 22 minutes was wholly out of character (6)

TIAGO: a pretty anonymous display reaped its inevitable reward when replaced by Robben on the hour mark (5)

EIDUR GUDJOHNSEN: On a night when Chelsea struggled to create, the Icelandic striker’s performance was frustratingly low-key (5)

DIDIER DROGBA: dragged his shot across the goal when he should have scored early on, but generally gave the centre of Liverpool’s defence a rough, tough first half. Like many of his colleagues went out of the game in the second 45 (6)

Liverpool ratings:

JERZY DUDEK: a bit of a wobble with a spinning ball must have had Liverpool hearts in mouths but the keeper generally had an uneventful night (7)

STEVE FINNAN: didn’t see much of the full-back going forward, as the Irish international was kept busy ensuring his side left Stamford Bridge with a clean sheet (5)

JAMIE CARRAGHER: the most redoubtable of Liverpool’s defenders on a night when, especially in the first half, the back four was living on its nerves (8)

SAMI HYYPIA: troubled by Cole’s pace and battered by Drogba, the centre-half had an uncomfortable first 45 but still did enough to help keep Chelsea scoreless (5)

DJIMI TRAORE: one great tackle early on to deny Cole but thereafter the full-back lacked confidence and conviction (4)

LUIS GARCIA: wasted the ball in some good positions and generally offered Liverpool little in the way of inspiration on the right flank (4)

IGOR BISCAN: the midfielder came more into the game as Liverpool upped the tempo and pressure in the second-half but was replaced with five minutes to go by Harry Kewell (5)

STEVEN GERRARD: far from being the explosive performance required of Liverpool’s talisman, this was the kind of damp squib showing that might make Jose Mourinho think twice about adding him to Chelsea’s ranks (5)

XABI ALONSO: a below par night for Liverpool’s playmaker who uncharacteristically mis-hit a number of passes. An unjust and costly yellow card just about summed up his unhappy evening (5)

JOHN ARNE RIISE: Liverpool’s best player, he always carried a threat on the left, whether crossing or cutting in himself to have a go (8)

MILAN BAROS: his one great moment was the flashing header saved by Cech: otherwise this was another hard-running but ineffectual performance by the frontman. Replaced by Cisse with 25 minutes to go (5).

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