Sublime Torres gets Anfield rocking
Striker proves class is permanent as tour de force destroys Chelsea
Somebody in the Liverpool dressing-room either has a mischievous sense of humour or a surprising weakness for late-70s soft-rock.
Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Lucas and company celebrated this huge victory with repeated playings of 'Sultans of Swing'. Dire Straits at Anfield? Only on the dressing-room iPod.
This great old stadium was certainly rocking yesterday, revelling in the sight of Torres back in goalscoring business, taking his league tally to 60 in 90 appearances, a ratio that speaks eloquently of the Spaniard's heavyweight quality. Torres' brace also provides a timely reminder of the sporting adage that form is temporary, class permanent, and Torres is a class act.
Nobody here will get carried away by three league wins on the spin, but a new mood of cautious optimism does permeate Anfield. There's new ownership and a new impetus about the place. There's certainly a new spring in Torres' step.
And in the Kop's. Liverpool fans were bouncing up and down, relishing the sight of Torres tearing the champions' defence to little blue pieces.
His first goal was of particular embarrassment to Ashley Cole and John Terry, while his second left Petr Cech a bemused bystander as the ball swept inexorably home. Some of the rockets set off last night could have been distress signals in the Chelsea back-line.
As well as lifting Liverpool spirits, a deserved triumph rooted in collective endeavour, the right game-plan and the re-sharpened cutting edge that is Torres also carried a wider significance. No longer are the Premier League's chasing pack choking on Chelsea's vapour trails.
No longer are the champions looking so invincible. In stifling Carlo Ancelotti's side, Liverpool matched Manchester City's work rate. Yuri Zhirkov and Ramires simply lacked the power to deal with Gerrard and Lucas.
Didier Drogba, restricted to second-half action, was struggling with a fever. Chelsea's defence certainly caught a cold from the whirlwind called Torres. For all the praise inevitably lavished on this elegant conquistador, plaudits also need bestowing on others who march to the Mersey beat.
When Chelsea sought to lay siege to Liverpool's goal in a breathless second period, Pepe Reina stood defiant, denying Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda. Jamie Carragher rolled back the years to extra-time in Istanbul in 2005, once again thwarting an Ancelotti side with his tackling and marvellous will to win.
To Carragher's right, Martin Kelly delivered a far more secure defensive performance than Glen Johnson might have done. England's right-back reported for work complaining of a groin problem which might have proved a blessing in disguise for Liverpool. Barring one memorable occasion, Kelly showed no inclination to cross the halfway line as Johnson does. He just stayed fully focused on frustrating Malouda and Cole.
Kelly's first mistake did not arrive until the 77th minute, when Drogba tricked him. Tirelessly shielding Kelly was Raul Meireles, stationed on the right of a 4-4-2 but occasionally drifting inside to good, creative effect.
The king of midfield, even eclipsing Meireles and Gerrard, was Lucas, the Brazilian who seized the responsibility demanded of a central two against Chelsea's three. Lucas was immense, tackling relentlessly, closing down John Obi Mikel, Zhirkov and Ramires, cutting the supply lines to Malouda, Anelka, Salomon Kalou and, later, Drogba.
Lucas was assisted by the selflessness of Dirk Kuyt, who kept dropping back into midfield while always, always being quick to support Torres. Tactically, Hodgson had sprung a surprise, starting Liverpool in a 4-4-2 system clearly designed to get bodies closer to Torres. Kuyt buzzed between the lines, disrupting Mikel's attempts to launch attacks, but always looking to release Torres.
As in the 11th minute. When Martin Skrtel drilled a free-kick forward, Kuyt accelerated it down the inside-right channel to Torres. Gone was the sluggish striker of recent times, banished was the shadow of a world-class striker.
This was the real Torres, sharp and hungry, darting through, his strength and pace accounting for Cole and Terry and then a calm finish defeating Cech. Confidence flooded through the Spaniard as if the strike were a shot of adrenalin. He promptly tried his luck again, this time from range, this time over.
Liverpool were leading, the Kop was bouncing but Chelsea are Chelsea, worthy champions and deserving of great respect. Kalou went close with a header. Kelly made three important interceptions, his commitment and awareness drawing wild applause. On the other flank, Paul Konchesky has yet to win over the Liverpool faithful but one closing down of Terry earned a prolonged salute.
Liverpool were so up for this. Whenever a blue shirt attempted to dwell on the ball a red swarm stormed in. Whenever Liverpool had possession, they charged through the gears. Lucas drove through until cynically blocked by Zhirkov. Kelly cut in and saw a shot blocked by Terry.
Torres was causing Alex and Terry no end of problems. Such was the menace emanating from Liverpool's No 9 that Terry lost all composure, deciding to stop his tormentor with a high knee to the back that demanded a card. Leniency came from Howard Webb, who otherwise handled a manic game well.
Torres was mainly inflicting pain, striking again a minute before the interval. When Cole slipped near the centre circle, Meireles pounced, advanced and swept the ball left to Torres. His response was majestic. Branislav Ivanovic seemed turned to stone as Torres turned inside, before despatching the ball into the net.
Chelsea turned to the cavalry, to Drogba, and they were undoubtedly energised, forcing Liverpool on to the back foot for large periods of the second half. The pressure built and built but they never broke through.
Drogba sent a free-kick wide. Ramires headed over. Malouda was thwarted only by a remarkable reaction save from Reina.
Liverpool fought hard, their commitment embodied by Kuyt. Like Torres, the Dutchman received the compliment of a flattening by Terry. Kuyt made light of the offence, soon bringing a fine save from Cech, before departing to a standing ovation.
Gerrard was working overtime putting out fire, running back to cut out an Anelka cross from the left. The Frenchman then attacked from the right, forcing Reina into another fine save, the ball diverting on to the bar.
The storm withstood, Liverpool almost added a third but Cech pulled of an exceptional save from Maxi. Soon it was all over bar the singing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)