Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kelly Gerrard Lucas Maxi Johnson
"Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!" Yet again, David beats Goliath. And it couldn't have been sweeter.
So much for not seeing three at the back for a second-straight match. More important, so much for the notion that the game had passed Kenny Dalglish by.
Liverpool's tactics again blunted the opposition, leading to a cagey first half at the Bridge. Three defenders did well to silence Drogba and Torres while Lucas marked Anelka up and down the pitch. Carragher and Agger each picked up a striker while Skrtel picked up the pieces as Chelsea struggled to create chances. The home side had more possession throughout, but as against Stoke, Liverpool got better as half went on, especially as they settled and cut out the cheap giveaways – such as Maxi's which presented Torres a chance after less than two minutes.
The hearts-in-mouth moment of the half came from a Liverpool attack, one which should have seen the Reds take the lead into the break. On the counter, Johnson's cross deflected to Gerrard, whose dangerous ball across the face of goal found Maxi at the far post. With an unlucky bobble at an inopportune time, the Argentinean could only side-foot off the bar from two yards out.
It looked like Liverpool would rue that opportunity after the break. That seemed to be the chance. While Chelsea's front line was silent – the best opportunity for either striker came when Carragher dove in to block Drogba's 54th minute shot – the Blues upped the threat through set plays and shots from distance. Dead balls routinely found Ivanovic's head, while Anelka, Essien, and Cole blasted either high or wide from outside the area.
Yet Reina remained remarkably unthreatened. And in the 69th minute, Raul Meireles again turned the game on its head. Kelly started the move by finding Gerrard with a long ball down the touchline. Gerrard's threatening cross failed to reach Kuyt, but neither Cech nor Ivanovic could clear when under pressure from the Dutchman, and Meireles was on the spot to smash in with his left foot. That'd be four goals in the last five games.
Pinned back for the final 20 minutes, sending on Aurelio for Maxi and Poulsen for Meireles, Chelsea still struggled to create openings. We'll hear complaints about two penalties not given – an incidental handball by Lucas (with his arms at his side) and a shove by Johnson, both of which could have been called – but that was about all the offense the home side created. According to Opta Sports, it's been two years since Chelsea created so little at home, with only one of their 14 shots on target. Meanwhile, Liverpool still looked to break when possible, with Aurelio forcing Cech in a neat save on a right-footed blast with 10 minutes remaining, but a second obviously wasn't the priority as Liverpool rode out the storm.
From Liverpool's point of view, today's match wholly lived up to the hype. Maxi had a tough match, but every other player was outstanding, especially Carragher and Lucas. Either could be man of the match, as could Gerrard for creating Liverpool's two scoring chances or Meireles for the goal. The entire side fought diligently throughout. Once again, we saw a cohesive unit instead of individuals playing for themselves. And we saw intelligent, fluid tactics which stifled the opposition instead of an archaic, static 4-4-2 which only hoped (and often failed) to keep the score-sheet blank.
From Chelsea's point of view, today was a utter failure. Torres had no impact thanks to Liverpool's bright defenders, hauled off right before Liverpool's winner. Anelka had zero space to weave magic as against Sunderland with Lucas in his shadow. Neither Cole nor Boswinga could provide enough width in the 4-3-1-2 system because of Liverpool's wingbacks and packed midfield. The narrow play helped Liverpool and hurt Chelsea. Exactly how it was drawn up.
Liverpool have now won more away games under Dalglish than Hodgson. Two wins in three matches compared to one win in 10. It's the fourth consecutive victory and fourth consecutive clean sheet. Questions remained after beating three teams in the bottom half of the table, but a victory over the defending champions validates Dalglish's renaissance. An unlikely double, to say the least.
Liverpool are now up to sixth, only six points behind Chelsea and Spurs albeit having played an extra game. If one of the top four win either the Carling or FA Cups, that position would qualify Liverpool for the Europa League. Less than a month ago, that seemed implausible if not impossible. I doubt Liverpool will be satisfied with that accomplishment, though.
It's nice to believe again.