x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Liverpool on fire as Chelsea slump

Torres all but absent on debut, substituted after 65 minutes, as Chelsea see title hopes all but gone

LONDON // Liverpool's spurned supporters having taken flame to the old shirt of Fernando Torres; their players applied some scorch marks to his new dreams.

Oh, the Schadenfreude at Anfield should the £50 million (Dh295m) man miss out on Champions League football at his new club.

With this rare and painful victory at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool moved that possibility in the direction of probability.

Forget the Premier League title, Chelsea remain a full 10 points behind Manchester United. Far more pressing is the challenge of Tottenham Hotspur and, should their dynamic form under Kenny Dalglish continue, Liverpool for the fourth and final Champions League slot.

Torres was all but absent on his Chelsea debut - substituted after 65 minutes as Carlo Ancelotti reverted to an old tactical shape to try and take the points. Minutes later Raul Meireles became the first Liverpool player to score a league goal here in seven years and three more points slipped out of Roman Abramovich's nervous hands.

"As the club always say, the most important people are the people who are at Liverpool Football Club, and that's the way we approached the game today," Dalglish said, pointedly. "We were determined not to lose the game. That's four clean sheets and 12 points in the last four games. Everyone with a favour to Liverpool is very happy."

Those with a hankering for Chelsea were not.

"The problem wasn't that Torres played," Ancelotti said. "He did a good job on the pitch. We had difficulty finding enough space in front, because Liverpool defended very well and they put three defenders in the middle, and we didn't find the right way to attack them. "

How they had revelled in El Nino's acquisition on the streets of west London. Amid the sea of newly minted No 9 shirts one ran a taunting strapline: "He never won anything with the Kop, now he's got a proper job".

The visiting support were unforgiving. "He who betrays will always walk alone," read one banner. The new man went straight into the team, his position on the right-hand side of a striking partnership with Didier Drogba; behind them Nicolas Anelka asked to roam free.

Liverpool's response was brutally conservative. Dirk Kuyt was the sole striker as Luis Suarez - newly moved into Torres's former Merseyside residence - remained in reserve.

Chelsea's first-half chances all derived from Liverpool errors. After just 90 seconds Maxi Rodriguez played in Torres from the half-way line - his former teammate shot high and wide. Later in the half, Drogba pick-pocketed Lucas to play in the new No 9 only for Jamie Carragher to dive into an uncompromising block. Playing mostly in their own half of the field, Liverpool still managed to create the better chances. The best of which came when Steven Gerrard angled a ball across goal was met by Maxi Rodriguez two yards out, yet preposterously he lifted it onto the crossbar.

As half time approached, Branislav Ivanovic half stole Kelly's centre from Petr Cech's grasp then compounded his error by attempting to clear the spillage from his own keeper's hands. Cech turned to the defender in screaming fury, receiving a mouthful of abuse in return.

The interval brought no change of pattern. Torres drifted wider in search of any kind of possession. Finding none, he was withdrawn by Ancelotti with a 25 minutes to play as Ancelotti reverted to his standard system, Salomon Kalou the right winger in a three-man attack.

It did not have the desired impact. At Liverpool's next attack, Gerrard made ground down the right before arcing a ball across the six-yard box.

Ivanovic and Cech ran at each other, stopped, and let it run onto Meireles, whose unerring finish extending his personal return to four in five League outings.

As the home side pushed, Glen Johnson applied a questionable shove to Ivanovic in the area. "It was a penalty," Ancelotti said.

Without bothering to deploy their own new forward, Liverpool worked their way to a notable clean sheet. Points deficit to Chelsea? Six. Point proven? A very large one.