If Liverpool needed a calming of nerves before a vital encounter, their new owner John W. Henry certainly provided them with it. Promising stability, and speaking in deliberate measured tones, the American offered a soothing salve to an unsettled, albeit resurgent side. Further good news for the Reds came courtesy the unveiling of an injury ravaged Chelsea side minus Lampard and Essien, and a surprising exclusion of Didier Drogba.
Chelsea started off the game passing the ball leisurely, with Liverpool showing greater impetus on the counter attack. A clumsy prod from Gerrard on Zhirkov gave Chelsea a free-kick from a third of the pitch, that was promptly wasted. Liverpool did no better at the other end with Chelsea’s backline stoutly defending a Gerrard free kick. In the tenth minute, Steven Gerrard was yet again in the thick of things as he dribbled masterfully past one blue shirt after another. Torres finally broke the deadlock converting a superb cross from Kuyt, to put the ball past Cech.
Chelsea responded almost immediately with Kalou only managing to find Reina. Cech almost managed to do an Almunia, awkwardly letting the ball bounce past him after misjudging it. Zhirkov saw the first yellow of the game after Lucas went down relatively easily as the Russian shadowed him aggressively. Chelsea survived a handball scare as Zhirkov knicked the ball back onto himself, and Alex then added to the nerves with a weak clearance that fell kindly for Torres. Pandemonium reigned as both sides continued to exchange possession as the focus of action swung from one end to another.
Kalou looked all set to line up a shot in the box off an Ashley Cole cross, but was found offside.The first corner of the game, proved eventless, as Zhirkov could only fire in low. John Terry leaped six feet in the air to knee Torres in the head, promptly conceding a free kick that Ramires did well to deflect out. Play had to be halted for a bit as Malouda and Gerrard disagreed on the field, with Howard Webb having to intervene. Ashley Cole then lost possession, and the Blues could only watch as Torres scored his second of the evening. Ivanovic made the mistake of letting the Spanish sensation into the box, who then deftly side-stepped the Serbian before bringing the chorus at the Kop to a rousing crescendo at the stroke of half-time.
The second half started with the introduction of Drogba in place of the ineffective Kalou in a bid to provide a shot in the arm to Chelsea’s offensive abilities. Malouda cut an increasingly frustrated figure as Lucas shadowed the Frenchman, denying him breathing space. Skrtel conceded a free-kick pushing Drogba in the back; the ensuing free kick was sent wide by the Ivorian. Zhirkov tested Reina from close range and the custodian did well to palm the ball out.
As the champions cranked up the pressure, Reina pulled off a blinder denying Malouda in a split second reaction. Konchesky was immense in keeping Chelsea at bay, despite the Blues’ dominance in the second half. Jonjo Shelvey was brought in to replace the highly influential Dirk Kuyt. Anelka and Drogba soon combined to throw Reina in a tizzy, but once again Spain’s second choice for goalkeeper was up to the task, managing to deflect the ball on to the top bar. The introduction of Sturridge failed to compensate for the departure of Zhirkov as Chelsea’s service from midfield dried up. Carlo Ancelloti had only himself to blame with a puzzling starting team line-up, and an unimaginative substitution under duress.
In the absence of midfield stalwarts Frank Lampard, and Michael Essien due to injury – and Didier Drogba’s shocking exclusion from the first half – Chelsea’s usually imperious defence was stretched to breaking point by a tactically superior Liverpool side. With John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic constantly playing up the field, trying to shore up the midfield, a player of the caliber of Fernando Torres was bound to have a say in the game.
It is certainly tempting to declare Fernando Torres the man of the match, considering his extraordinary exploits against the Londoners ever since he scored his first goal in England by outwitting the then Chelsea centre-half Ben Haim. Honorable mention should also go to Dirk Kuyt who was a thorn in Chelsea’s over-extended backline. But TheHardTackle’s choice for player of the game is Liverpool custodian, and Kop hero, Pepe Reina. If Torres scored the goals, it was Pepe who ensured his team walked off with all 3 points. A lesser-accomplished goalkeeper between the posts, would well have conceded two goals off superbly created chances by the Blues – but not, Reina. This was certainly his day.
The HardTackle’s Referee Report Card
Howard Webb: Grade B+
Webb had a decent game and managed to keep the peace between two aggressive sides quite well. He did however, manage to get quite a few non-crucial decisions wrong.
Score: Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea
Venue: Anfield, Liverpool
Liverpool line-up: Reina, Skrtel, Carragher, Konchesky, Kelly, Lucas, Gerrard, Rodriguez, Meireles (Spearing 90′), Torres (Ngog 88′), Kuyt (Shelvey 84′)
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Sent Off: None
Scorers: Torres (11′, 44′)
Chelsea line-up: Cech, Terry, Alex, Cole, Ivanovic (Bosingwa 70′), Mikel, Zhirkov (76′), Ramires, Malouda, Anelka, Kalou (Drogba 45′)
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
Cautions: Zhirkov (20′), Alex (90′)
Sent Off: None