Liverpool fans had envisaged the perfect game. Fernando Torres, the man they would so often look to for them to win games, had to suffer. He had to play poorly, and above all, there was no way he could score. This was echoed by Kenny Dalglish throughout the week in the build-up to the game – to the extent that it could quite easily have been Liverpool’s game plan as they arrived at Stamford Bridge.
Torres’ £50m move sparked much debate over whether Chelsea would be forced to change their shape to accommodate the Spaniard, and that they did. Torres partnered Didier Drogba in attack, with Nicolas Anelka drifting behind – a ploy that worked to devastating effect against Sunderland in their previous league game. Anelka’s low drive came close to opening the scoring but for large spells the Frenchman was unable to replicate the performance from Tuesday evening. This was most notably due to Lucas Leiva, Liverpool’s midfield anchor, who tirelessly shadowed Anelka and denied him any space or significant touches of the ball in deep areas.
With Anelka stifled, the Chelsea creative line stalled, and it led to the midfield quartet rotating throughout the first-half to find a solution. John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien shared the defensive pivot duty, whilst Frank Lampard proved equally barren when it came to feeding his front line.
For the visitors, Raul Meireles’ influence in his role just off the lone striker was one of few first-half highlights. Liverpool’s use of wing-backs enabled them to counter attack when the opportunity presented itself and Meireles was the link between narrow passing interchanges and spreading the ball wide. It was from this position that he gambled, and arrived late into the box, to gate-crash Torres’ Stamford Bridge house warming.
The riposte to falling behind was to introduce width. Both Solomon Kalou and Florent Malouda came off the bench to give Chelsea a more familiar outlook, but it was more of the same, as Chelsea were restricted to a plethora long-range attempts – none of which troubling Pepe Reina.
Liverpool’s defensive resilience, characterised by the performance of Lucas and Jamie Carragher’s last-ditch block to deny Torres a debut goal, silenced Stamford Bridge at a time where encouragement was needed if the home side were to conjure up an equaliser. For Chelsea this was another home defeat at precisely the wrong time, as Manchester United’s first defeat of the season on Saturday gave them the perfect opportunity to claw back the 10-point deficit. The win for Liverpool maintains the upward curve in results that sees their fourth clean sheet under Dalglish rewarded with sixth place in the table.