Debut blues for Torres as Reds prevail to leave former favourite floundering
Bootroom spirit revives Merseysiders
For Liverpool, this has been the year of Kenny Dalglish famously cutting short a cruise and Fernando Torres jumping ship. Yesterday confirmed which was the more significant event.
As the clock ticked down on this most tense of contests, Dalglish and Sammy Lee kept kicking every ball in the dug-out, kept willing Liverpool to protect their lead and kept checking their watches every few seconds until a famous, deserved, rapturously received victory was theirs.
Here was Liverpool reconnected to their glorious past, two loyal servants exhorting the team to reach for the skies again. Ably assisted by Steve Clarke, Dalglish and Lee had Liverpool's players hunting in pairs, seeking and destroying Chelsea moves before they could build real momentum.
It was Jamie Carragher, the old warhorse who would no sooner contemplate leaving Merseyside than he would contemplate changing his name to Sandra, to whom the day belonged as well as an unlikely supporting cast of Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva and Glen Johnson.
Carragher's crowning moment came when, as Torres pulled the trigger on a through ball from Didier Drogba, he slid across and blocked the shot as soon as it left the striker's foot. It was reminiscent of Carragher's great cramp-inducing tackle on Andrei Shevchenko in the 2005 Champions League final and this in his first game back since November. But Carragher and his two fellow centre-halves that were part of Kenny Dalglish's 3-5-1-1 formation -- a system used only for the second time -- closed Torres, Drogba and Nicolas Anelka out of this game.
Even without Luis Suarez, who remained on the bench, and Andy Carroll, who remains on the treatment table, Dalglish's men were too organised and determined for the champions. Even without Torres, now sporting Chelsea blue, so much belief remained.
Liverpool's fans set the tone of defiance, backing their team with chants of "Suarez" or "Dalglish" whenever the home fans sang Torres' name. The Merseyside Banner Factory had been busy with the bed-sheets.
A minute before kick-off, Chelsea stewards failed in their attempt to grab one of the Torres banners off Liverpool fans. It read: 'He who betrays will always walk alone'. Another declared: 'Torres a pawn on our chessboard but the King remains'.
Such is Liverpool's transformation under Dalglish, a reinvigorated team now sixth, that it can only be a matter of time before he is confirmed as long-term manager. Martin Kelly's vibrancy, defending hungrily and attacking with pace and persistence, rivals Meireles in embodying the new model Liverpool under Dalglish.
Steve Clarke, warmly greeted by Chelsea fans beforehand, has also played his part in the revival, notably drilling the defence at Melwood. This was Liverpool's fourth successive clean sheet, the players showing their adaptability by again making the back-three work. Carragher's return from shoulder surgery added further to the resistance movement at the back. But the key was that the visitors defended as a unit, playing the old Liverpool way, the Dalglish way.
For Carlo Ancelotti, this numbing defeat reduces the champions' chances of catching Manchester United, who remain 10 points clear. The last time Chelsea lost seven times in a League season the manager, Claudio Ranieri, was sacked. Ancelotti needs time to bed his new players in but a huge call has to be made on his attack, one that could define Chelsea's season. Clearly, the Drogba-Torres-Anelka triumvirate needs working on, or simply abandoning, omitting Anelka and reverting to a 4-4-2 system. Chelsea were desperately short of width yesterday, particularly with Liverpool's wing-backs, Kelly and Glen Johnson mainly keeping Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa deep on another epic day in the mighty Premier League soap opera.
Yesterday's two away wins, here and for Birmingham City at Upton Park, capped an extraordinary weekend. Following Saturday's series of goal sprees and comebacks, Richard Scudamore sent a message to his Premier League staff.
"Remember Saturday 5th February 2011," said the chief executive.
"There has never been, and I doubt we will ever see, quite such a remarkable single day in our great competition ... let the Select Committee and Government try to improve it!" Yesterday's shocks simply added to the drama. Initially, this was a slow-burner, the first half notable only for a skied Torres effort, a Torres shot blocked by Carragher and an astonishing miss from Maxi Rodriguez, who hit the bar from three yards. Heaven knows what Mini Rodriguez is like. Signs of the unease in the Chelsea ranks surfaced when Branislav Ivanovic and Petr Cech argued.
Chelsea briefly stirred at the start of the second half. Anelka shot wide. Ivanovic headed over. But familiar themes continued to be seen.
When Torres collected possession, Meireles and Lucas hounding him into giving up the ball.
Chelsea's menace was too infrequent, too slowly unfurled. Liverpool were too alert, Lucas nipping in to ensure Jose Bosingwa's cross did not reach Torres. The £50m man was withdrawn after 66 minutes, to applause from the Chelsea fans and unrestrained glee from the red section of the Shed. "You should have stayed with a big club," chanted Liverpool fans, clearly not forgetting Torres' parting words that he was joining a "big club". As if to emphasise past feats in the European Cup, Liverpool supporters chorused: "In Istanbul we won it five times".
Torres' replacement, Salomon Kalou, promptly set up Michael Essien, whose left-footed drive flew just over, but the game's defining moment arrived in the following move. Steven Gerrard charged down the right, whipping in a cross that should have been meat and drink for Cech but he made a real meal of it. Hesitating with Ivanovic, Chelsea's keeper allowed the ball to carry through to Meireles, who finished with an unstoppable volley.
The crowing intensified. "Torres, Torres, what's the score?" enquired the Liverpool fans. Chelsea were stunned, their attempt at a comeback unconvincing. Anelka had a shot saved and David Luiz came on, allowing Ivanovic to revert to right-back. Luiz kept pushing into midfield but Liverpool stood firm. Cech needed to save from Fabio Aurelio but Chelsea were denied a penalty when Johnson barged into Ivanovic's ribs, knocking the Serb over. Nobody was going to wrest this victory away from Dalglish and Liverpool. (© Daily Telegraph, London)