Kelly Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Gerrard Lucas Maxi
Torres 11' 44'
All Torres all the time in the first half – yes, British media, he's back. All hands on deck, and everybody behind the ball, in the second, but Liverpool held on thanks to some terrific team defending and Reina and Carragher's refusal to concede. This is what we've missed. This is what I worried Liverpool weren't capable of under Hodgson. As usual, shows was little I know.
It was simply a different Liverpool from the start. Everyone pressed incessantly, intent on taking the game to the highly-favored opponents. Unlike against City, the 4-4-2 formation won the midfield battle against a 4-3-3, mainly in part to Lucas' revelatory performance. Kuyt's return, supporting Torres up front, also played a key role, and it was the Dutchman who provided an inch-perfect cross over the top to Torres in the 11th minute, allowing the Spaniard to control and chip Cech, that sent Liverpool on its way.
Chelsea didn't know what hit them, and Liverpool kept coming after the opener. The league leaders couldn't string two passes together in attack. Malouda, joint top-scorer in the league, was rendered invisible by the Brazilian, while youngster Martin Kelly kept the dangerous Ashley Cole in his pocket all game long. Meanwhile, Maxi volleyed over from Torres' flick-on and Liverpool could have won a penalty when Zhirkov inadvertently handled in the box.
And on the stroke of half-time, Torres reasserted his dominance and doubled Liverpool's lead. In space on the left from Meireles' quick ball wide, the striker cut inside around Ivanovic and unleashed an unstoppable curler that left Cech flat-footed and shaking his head in wonder. Today should put an end to questions over his commitment and overall brilliance. Once again, when Torres is on his game, he simply has no equal.
You knew Chelsea would respond, bringing the ever-dangerous Drogba off the bench for the start of the second half. And Liverpool spent the next 45 minutes couched in their own half, permanently under threat. But, unlike all too often this season, the back-line never broke. The two lines of four ran themselves into the ground, kept their shape, and kept Chelsea out for long stretches. The Blues nearly made the breakthrough twice, bracketing Cech's kick-save on Kuyt's 74th minute shot, but Reina and Carragher were equal to both. First, in the 66th, Reina somehow kept out Malouda's point-blank effort after Drogba burst down the left and crossed. In the 85th, Anelka found space, with Reina only able to parry his fierce blast onto the crossbar, but Carragher dove in to heroically block Drogba's follow-up effort. All out effort, plus that little but of luck, led to an immense, well-deserved victory.
Torres will get all the plaudits for his two excellent strikes, but today's truly was a team effort. Lucas, Meireles, and Kelly were all excellent; if this match doesn't silence the Lucas doubters, I don't know what will. Kuyt demonstrated just how dearly missed he's been over the last month. It was a total performance reminiscent of the best matches in 2008-09.
Of course, how deep Liverpool sat in the second half made for uncomfortable viewing – easily leading to snipes as to how it looked like Fulham holding onto a 1-0 lead away from home – but Chelsea were always going to make life difficult. That Liverpool prevented a goal which would have gotten the away side back into the game can't be dismissed. And I'm worried as to how the team will respond on Wednesday against Wigan – players were utterly drained by the 75th minute yet still held on for the win and the clean sheet – but that's a problem for tomorrow.
Into the top half of the table, five points behind 4th and level with the likes of Spurs, today's a celebration for the return of the Liverpool – and the Torres – we hadn't seen nearly enough of this season.