At the end of a game in which Andy Carroll utterly bullied John Terry, the Anfield DJ played Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’, giving the Kop the chance to sing ‘Sweet Carroll Nine’ in homage to their striker.
He failed to score but he looked every inch an imposing target-man, good news for England as well as Liverpool.
Part-jubilant, part-reflective, Anfield was left with a feeling of what might have been, of what additional damage Carroll might have inflicted on Chelsea's defence had he started Saturday’s FA Cup final rather than coming on for a rampaging half-hour against Terry and company. From first whistle to last here, Carroll was immense.
He has taken time to settle, needing to develop an understanding with Luis Suárez. Some of their linking hinted at a burgeoning partnership. Carroll looks leaner than when he arrived, more athletic. The price-tag of £35? million still looks excessive but at least Carroll has silenced the mocking. He has to go to the Euros.
If Carroll seized the headlines and plaudits from Kenny Dalglish, the bare details of an entertaining match paint only part of the picture. A Michael Essien own-goal, a composed Jordan Henderson finish and Daniel Agger’s header brought Liverpool three goals in nine first-half minutes as their fluid, forceful football shredded much-changed Chelsea. Stewart Downing then wasted a penalty, the seventh his side have missed from 11 this season.
The second half saw Ramires make it 3-1 but Liverpool were in total control, confirmed when Jonjo Shelvey capped a fine display with a wonderful strike from 30 yards. The bad blood that often flows between these sides was seen in some ugly moments, a two-footed challenge by Essien on Carroll, a Branislav Ivanovic elbow on Carroll and a Suárez forearm on Ivanovic.
The bigger picture of a game of many brushstrokes was of the significance to both sides. For Chelsea, it is now Munich or bust in terms of qualifying for the Champions League. They must defeat Bayern, whose name was sung by the Kop.
Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the top four had already been fading, a reality confirmed by the sight of so many changes on Roberto Di Matteo’s team-sheet, and they ended here. They cannot even catch fifth-placed Newcastle United now, a reminder what an exceptional season Alan Pardew’s team have enjoyed. This is Chelsea’s worst season in the league in the Roman Abramovich era; their lowest position before was third under the Russian oligarch.
For Liverpool, the victory contained an emotional significance. The quality of their attacking football, and particularly the sight of Shelvey running midfield and Carroll monstering Terry, stirred a feelgood factor into Anfield which has hardly been a fortress this season. In a disappointing season for Liverpool in the Premier League, the full tally of points here lifted them to within a point of Everton. There is local pride still to play for. For a club of Liverpool’s history, the race for seventh is hardly the most glorious of pursuits. Liverpool will need to strengthen in the summer but there was much to encourage the Kop here, even taking into account Chelsea’s second-string nature.
They still had their captain, Terry, who is suspended for Munich yet he endured a wretched night. Talk persists about whether Terry should go to the Euros because of any negative impact he might have on the dressing-room dynamic; on this evidence, there are significant footballing reasons for leaving him behind. Suárez had already nutmegged Terry once even before the goal-rush.
The goals began to flow after 20 minutes. Suárez drove in from the right, embarrassing Terry with the most elegant and quickly-executed of nutmegs. The Uruguayan cut the ball back from the byline, hitting Essien and cannoning into the net.
The pain continued. Terry looked a ghost, soon nutmegged again, this time by Carroll, and responded by fouling him. Terry was booked, and his evening deteriorated three minutes later when Henderson ran through. There has always been the suspicion with him that he feels inhibited by Steven Gerrard’s presence.
With Liverpool’s captain absent with a back injury, Henderson seemed released from an imaginary cage. From Maxi’s pass, he glided through the middle and placed the ball with a touch of fade around Ross Turnbull.
Chelsea’s defence was breached again three minutes later. Shelvey whipped in a corner from the left, Carroll again lost Terry and headed back for the stooping Agger to score.
Liverpool were rampant. Suárez fired over. Downing unleashed a marvellous dipping shot that clipped the bar. He should have had his first goal for Liverpool, following Ivanovic’s elbow into the chest of Carroll, but he drove his penalty against the post. Liverpool have now hit the woodwork 46 times in all competitions.
Downing’s failure was highlighted further when Robbie Fowler’s young son, Jacob, joined in the half-time shoot-out, converting his effort from 12 yards in front of the Kop.
Chelsea still had a few chances, and a few grievances. Shelvey kicked Florent Malouda in the head, guilty of carelessness at the very least.
Ivanovic headed a Malouda corner against the post. Torres crashed a shot off the underside of the bar. “You should have stayed at a big club,” the Kop chanted at Torres, who will soon be leaving for Munich and the Champions League final. He may be on the bench at the Allianz Arena but he has played his part on the road to Munich, and may come on if Plan A, Operation Drogba, fails.
Chelsea responded briefly, Ramires turning in Malouda’s free-kick with his midriff. Any idea of a comeback was brutally ended on the hour. In front of a cackling Kop, Turnbull made a shocking clearance, clearing the ball straight to Shelvey, who drilled it superbly into the net.