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Thursday, December 08, 2005 

Liverpool draw to finish top (Chelsea 0 - Liverpool 0)

Liverpool finished top of Champions League Group G on Tuesday after a tough 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Despite dominating the second-half, Chelsea could not find a way past Sami Hyypia and his Liverpool cohorts as the defending champions denied the Blues in a hotly contested affair.

Even though both teams were already through to the next round, both managers named virtually full strength teams for this game, as they looked to win the group and stay away from some of this season's form teams.

In a game notable for its full-blooded nature, there were a number of robust challenges with William Gallas and Momo Sissoko in particular leaving their mark on their opposite numbers. However, the moment that perhaps this game will be best remembered for involved a Mickael Essien challenge in the 22nd minute.

With the referee distracted by a foul on Damien Duff on the left touchline, the ball ran loose and Essien and Dietmar Hamann rightly attempted to win the ball while the crowd waited for the whistle. While Hamann slid in for the ball, the Ghanaian stepped over the ball and appeared to stamp on the German's knee, leaving the door open for UEFA's disciplinary panel to get involved.

The German midfielder refused to critisize the referee after the match, but certainly knew he had received a heavy knock: "It was the worst tackle I have ever received. I thought my leg was broken."

With the game being played in such a hi-octane atmosphere it was predictable that there would be few clear-cut chances. Something made all the more likely given the aggregate of just one goal in the last three European matches between these teams.

In a first-half that was edged by Liverpool in terms of quality of possession there was just a single decent chance for both teams.

Frank Lampard seized on a casual Jose Reina clearance to hit a powerful shot on goal in the opening minutes that the Liverpool stopper did well to parry after regaining his ground.

At the other end, John Arne Riise had the best chance on the half hour when he was released on the left by Steven Gerrard after one of his trademark driving runs. The Norwegian midfielder seemed in a great position to score from the left-hand edge of the box, but his low shot was too close to the imperious Petr Cech who did well to turn the ball away.

After a stern team-talk, Chelsea emerged after the break with greater purpose about their play and went on to dominate the second-half while never really testing Reina in the Liverpool goal.

Frank Lampard, runner-up in the recent Ballon d'Or awards, was guilty of missing the target with a couple of long-range shots that he has become so accustomed to getting on target and this lack of edge seemed to effect the rest of his team.

Arjen Robben was also guilty of missing the goal with a golden chance that has the Stamford Bridge crowd on their feet after the ball became tangled up in the side-netting.

Chelsea attempted to lay siege to the Liverpool to the Liverpool box in the final stages of the game, but with Sami Hyypia in superb form there was no way through and Liverpool hung on to claim some sort of revenge after their 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Mourinho's side in their previous league game.

Liverpool can now look forward to the draw for the last-16 knowing that having won Group G, they will now definitely avoid both Milan based clubs, French champions Lyon and the might of Barcelona.

"We have more points than the others so we have done a good job," Benitez said. "Normally it's better to finish first but it depends on the draw."

Mourinho will continue to insist that he does not care who his team faces in the next round, but I'm sure he would prefer the likes of Glasgow Rangers or PSV Eindhoven if given the choice.

Both teams will have a clearer idea of what awaits them in the next round when UEFA meets in Nyon on the 16th December to hold the draw.

Man-of-the-Match: Sami Hyypia for an outstanding display of defensive prowess.

Turning Point: Whatever Jose Mourinho said during the break clearly had an effect on his players, but in the end it was not quite enough.

Talking Point: The horror challenge from Michael Essien that was lucky not to bring Dietmar Hamann's night to a premature end.

sources: eurosport.com, uefa.com.

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