Fernando Torres late show brings new belief
THE hardest time to believe that something is possible is when the world and its mother is telling you that it isn't.
Over the past month Liverpool have seen their title chances written off with more regularity than the world's bad debts, with their manager's sanity questioned and the ability of the squad he has assembled derided as sub-standard.
Even those who had hitherto given Rafa Benitez their total backing found themselves wondering if the Spaniard is indeed the right man to guide Liverpool to that desperately wanted league title number 19.
With things going wrong on and off the pitch, January was a month when doubt was endemic and hope conspicuous only by its absence.
But the dawn of a new month should usher in a new sense of belief because Liverpool are not out of this title race, not by a long chalk.
Yesterday's victory over Chelsea may not have been secured until the fat lady was about to burst into song and it may well have been assisted by Mike Riley's controversial decision to reduce the Londoners to ten men, but its importance is far greater than the three points it garnered.
Liverpool can now boast three wins against their fellow big four members, a record which Arsenal, Chelsea and even Manchester United cannot match.
They are back within two points of the league leaders, even though United still have an added advantage of a game in hand.
And, perhaps most importantly, they have proven to themselves that they can find a way through even the most packed of defences.
After 89 minutes none of this seemed possible as a performance which was much improved on recent efforts had failed to produce a breakthrough.
Petr Cech had been in typically belligerent form and he needed to be as Liverpool were the only side who were looking to trouble the scorers with Pepe Reina reduced to the role of virtual bystander.
Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Albert Riera and substitute Yossi Benayoun were all denied by the Czech keeper as the Reds made the running from start to finish.
The closest they came to opening the scoring before a dramatic finale saw Alonso's deflected effort spin onto the cross bar before being palmed to safety by Cech.
At that point it looked like frustration was again destined to be the dominant emotion at Anfield, with a fifth successive draw on the cards.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and when you need a goal there are few in football who are more likely to provide one than Fernando Torres.
The Spanish striker has had a difficult second season with a succession of injuries blunting his edge, but when it was needed most Torres came up with the goods.
First by escaping the attentions of Alex to score a poacher's near post header and then by making the most of Benayoun's harassment of Ashley Cole to put the outcome beyond any doubt.
The midweek trip to Wigan had been something of a dark night of the soul for Torres, who endured probably his worst outing since trading La Liga for the Premier League two summers ago.
Nothing he tried at the JJB came off as he looked short on form and even shorter on fitness – in brief, he was a pale shadow of the player who had terrorised defences up and down the country since his arrival in England.
But there is something about Chelsea blue which acts as a red rag to this particular Spanish bull, and his late brace should be more than enough to restore his confidence and also act as a spur to his team mates in the weeks to come.
Chelsea had already played 27 minutes with ten men by the time Torres opened the scoring, with Frank Lampard having been dismissed for a challenge on Alonso.
On first viewing it looked like referee Mike Riley had got it wrong and replays did nothing to dispel the notion, but maybe the Leeds official is just slow on the uptake because he should have sent Lampard off four years ago for breaking Alonso's ankle.
Justice isn't always instant and any sense of grievance that Chelsea are nursing today should be put into context by the fact that on that occasion Liverpool had to do without the services of Alonso for three weeks while this time Lampard will only be out for three games.
They should also reflect on Jose Bosingwa's attempt to use Benayoun as a stepladder in stoppage time which should have resulted in one of the season's more obvious red cards only for the incident to go unnoticed – although surely the FA will have to look at that one again.
For Benitez, the win was a triumph on so many levels. It proved he is not cracking up because teams simply do not triumph in games of this magnitude unless their manager is on the ball.
It also showed that Liverpool now have Chelsea's number in the league – something which certainly wasn't the case in Benitez's first few years at Anfield – with a double in the bag for the first time since 1990.
But perhaps most importantly from the Reds boss' point of view the victory will have convinced him that his players can deliver results when they are most needed.
And, whisper it quietly in front of his critics, Benitez's substitutes paid off and actually made the difference, with Benayoun playing the role of lock picker and Ryan Babel's pace and attacking thrust making him the perfect replacement for the more defensive minded Mascherano as the game wore on and space opened up.
Those changes were the catalyst for Liverpool's late surge and they laid the platform for Torres to become the hero yet again.
The influence of Steven Gerrard should not go unrecognised though. While Torres may have stolen the headlines, Liverpool's captain was again the one who ran the show.
Gerrard is in the form of his life right now and while he continues to perform to such an incredibly high standard Liverpool will have every chance of staying in this race.
Title races were never meant to be easy and this one is no different.
But Liverpool are in there fighting with the best of them and that is all anyone can ever ask of them.
Maybe they deserve a bit more belief after all.
And this result certainly suggests they do.
Liverpool 2 – 0
(HT 0 – 0)
Cole, A 22
Sent off Lampard 60
Liverpool's Percentage Chelsea's Percentage
Corners 12 92% 1 8%
Goal attempts 22 84% 4 16%
On target 15 93% 1 7%
Fouls 20 57% 15 43%
Offside 0 0% 2 100%
Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Aurelio, Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher, Albert Riera (Yossi Benayoun, 74), Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano (Ryan Babel, 83), Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres (David N'Gog, 90)
Chelsea Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole, A, Rodrigo da Costa Alex, Jose da Silva Bosingwa, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda (Souza Deco, 69), John Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack, Salomon Kalou (Miroslav Stoch, 85), Nicolas Anelka (Didier Drogba, 69)
Referee Riley, M
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