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Mon 11 Feb 2008 07:01 AM

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Chelsea and Liverpool in stalemate

Chelsea wasted a chance to get back in the Premier League title race as Avram Grant's side were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Liverpool on Sunday.

Chelsea wasted a chance to get back in the Premier League title race as Avram Grant's side were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Liverpool on Sunday.

The Blues could have moved within three points of leaders Arsenal with a win at Stamford Bridge but Liverpool had much the better of a lacklustre encounter.

Rafa Benitez's team would have ended their woeful record here if Peter Crouch had shown more composure, but the England forward wasted their best opportunities, leaving Liverpool without a goal in their last eight visits to west London.

It was a dour stalemate that did little for either side. Chelsea could be eight points behind Arsenal if the Gunners beat Blackburn on Monday, while Liverpool are now three points adrift of fourth-placed Everton.

Chelsea at least managed to extend their unbeaten home league record to 76 matches, a run stretching back four years, but that was little consolation for Grant's men.

Benitez has made it abundantly clear that he blames the breakdown of his relationship with the club's American owners for Liverpool's inconsistent campaign.

But that ignores the fact that, despite spending millions in pre-season, Liverpool are still no closer to a title challenge.

It said much that Benitez appeared satisfied to take a point.

"It was a good situation. We were controlling the game and going forward but we couldn't take our chances," he said.

"It is better to get three points but at least we didn't lose. If we win our game in hand we will be in the top four."Grant conceded Chelsea had missed an opportunity to put pressure on Arsenal. "You can say that but it is not easy to play against Liverpool," he said.

"They know how to play tactically and don't give you spaces to play."

The Reds arrived in London reduced to trying to keep pace with local rivals Everton in the race for a top four finish.

As if that wasn't dispiriting enough, they hadn't scored a goal at Stamford Bridge since Benitez took charge four years ago and were without injured striker Fernando Torres.

They had the first chance after a tentative opening from both sides.

Crouch, handed a rare start in Torres's absence, climbed above Ricardo Carvalho and headed down to Ryan Babel. The Dutch winger's flick gave Crouch a sight of goal and his low strike flashed just wide.

Crouch had been sent off in his side's League Cup defeat at Chelsea earlier this season and his luck was out again. He took up a good position from Steven Gerrard's cross but Petr Cech saved his header easily.

Manchester United's surprise defeat against Manchester City earlier on Sunday had given Grant's side a chance to close the gap on the top two.

But, despite Frank Lampard's return from six weeks out with a thigh injury, they were lethargic from start to finish.

They squandered possession with alarming frequency and could only offer a hopeful appeal for a penalty when Joe Cole tumbled under Javier Mascherano's challenge.

At least Liverpool could be content after dominating for long spells but another half chance went begging when Crouch headed wide from Dirk Kuyt's cross.

Claude Makelele tried to lift Chelsea's tempo early in the second half with a long range strike. But the visitors, superbly marshalled by the imperious Jamie Carragher, refused let them get the upper hand.

France striker Nicolas Anelka, so lively in his first few Chelsea appearances, barely made a significant contribution.

While the hosts laboured, Liverpool were hamstrung by their own lack of cutting edge. Benitez's side had drawn four of their last six league matches and it was easy to see why.

The relentlessly physical nature of the contest was underlined when Carvalho was booked for a nasty elbow on Crouch.

Finally Chelsea had a clear chance when Ashley Cole's cross picked out Michael Ballack, but the Germany midfielder volleyed wide of the far post.

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