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Lucas fails to step up to the mark

There is a feeling that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez can be a little too stubborn for his own good at times and he is putting his reputation in unnecessary jeopardy by belligerently backing misfiring midfielder Lucas.

• Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool: Drogba the star
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Few Liverpool observers are convinced that the Brazilian midfielder has what it takes to claim a regular role in the heart of Benitez's side and his woeful performance in the defeat against Fiorentina on Tuesday night did little to silence the army who believe he would be more effectively employed as a bench warmer.

As it is, Benitez seems hell-bent on standing by a player he has long promoted as a star in the making, even though Lucas looks out of his depth against the better sides in the Premier League. He showed signs of life against the lesser lights Liverpool have come up against this season; when the chips were down against Tottenham and Aston Villa, Lucas went missing.

The same was true in this game at Stamford Bridge. He may have been helped by the return of Javier Mascherano after the Argentine missed the midweek trip to Florence, yet Lucas was anonymous and ineffective against rivals who rarely felt threatened by his presence.

Hard working and willing to give his all to the cause he may be, yet Lucas offers little more than uncreative energy to this Liverpool side. Indeed, by the time Benitez belatedly gave up on his "hero" by replacing him late on, this game was slipping out of Liverpool's grasp and a third Premier League defeat of the season was assured.

Quite where Benitez and Lucas go from here is anyone's guess. The imminent return to fitness of summer signing Alberto Aquilani may give the little Brazilian a chance to rebuild his eroded confidence in the reserves, but it seems as if he has a lot to do before he reaches the levels expected of him in a team hoping to challenge for the Premier League. However, such is Benitez's determination to prove those who doubt Lucas wrong that he will almost certainly be starting when Liverpool travel to face in-form Sunderland in their next league outing two weeks from now. Another defeat and their fading title bid would be all but over.

Such sweeping conclusions may be a little premature in the first weekend of October, yet such is the life of a Premier League manager and a player who appears to be falling below the grade.

Chelsea would have been suffering a similarly withering backlash if their indifferent week had continued with a second successive league defeat and yet they returned to the top of the table as the two key moments in this game went in their favour.

All too often, games between these sides have turned into dour stalemates and this was another morbid scrap for long periods. Liverpool may have started brightly, but their early enthusiasm waned all too quickly as the first half failed to sparkle.

To start with, we didn't even have the familiar side show of Drogba taking on the Reds back line by fair or foul means as we had to wait until the 33rd minute for his first battle with long-standing adversary Jamie Carragher. Drogba was to have a more prominent role in the second half.

The Chelsea striker spent much of the opening ten minutes of the first half rolling around as if a sniper was taking shots at him from the crowd. Liverpool supporters are not alone in believing the Ivory Coast marksman adds a little too much theatrical content to his play at times and it seemed as if this was going to be another day when he put his play-acting ahead of his sporting prowess.

However, the frustrating and brilliant Drogba often work in tandem and thus was the case again. His cross for Nicolas Anelka's opener was perfectly weighted before Drogba provided Florent Malouda with the second goal that killed off Liverpool in the closing stages.

As he held off the challenges of determined opponents to create Malouda's goal, Drogba proved he is more than capable of standing up to the most heated of physical confrontations. Why does the experienced footballer persist in indulging in his embarrassing tumbling antics when he has so much to offer the game?

Drogba's manager was not complaining as he toasted a much-needed victory in a week when the side went down to a shock defeat at Wigan and then played poorly against Apoel Nicosia in the Champions League.

"Liverpool are a strong team and made it very difficult for us," said Carlo Ancelotti. "We stayed compact and struck at the right moment on the counter attack. Our concentration was excellent and hopefully we can now feel as if we can forget about our bad performances of the last few days."

Benitez refused to hit the panic button when he was presented with a predictable set of negative questions from the press pack. "I felt that we were doing a good game and working hard, but then the small details went in Chelsea's favour," was the view of a surprisingly upbeat Benitez.

"They took their chances and we didn't. We felt as if we were in control until they scored and then things changed. We have to keep going as this is a long race. Yes were are disappointed, but the main thing is we can come back. There were some positives from this game."

The real question Benitez must answer in the next fortnight is whether he continues to lobby for a player who is not contributing enough to deserve re-election. After this latest no-show, Lucas's reputation must have hit rock bottom among Liverpool followers.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba - If an "annoyance of the match" award was on offer, Chelsea's big striker would have won that as well for his diving antics. As it was, he played a crucial role in creating his side's victory.

CHELSEA VERDICT: They have so many players who can win a game on days when they are not at their best and on this occasion, Drogba was the man who produced the goods. However, Frank Lampard's indifferent form must be a concern. At least the England midfielder made the key interception that set up the first goal.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: A lack of midfield creativity was a flaw and Lucas was a blatant weak link. Fernando Torres missed a few half chances that could have changed the course of the game, but a third defeat of the season is one they could not afford.

BENAYOUN SHOCKER: The game may have been beyond Liverpool as Chelsea moved two goals clear, but substitute Yossi Benayoun left the stadium in hysterics as he somehow missed an open goal in the final minutes. Chelsea keeper Hilario had already sunk to the ground and yet the Israeli still managed to miss the target from close range.


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