Reds spoil Fernando Torres' welcome party

THE build-up to this fixture had been solely and comprehensively about the actions of one particular Spaniard.

Not for a long time has one footballer dominated the headlines in the run-up to a Premier League game.

This was set to be the Fernando Torres show at Liverpool’s expense, the rebirth of Chelsea’s new £50million man after fleeing Merseyside on a supposed quest for silverware and glory.

But the Reds were determined to gatecrash the party and they did just that it in beautifully destructive style.

The sense of theatre couldn’t have been better staged.

Before kick-off, the circus-style Stamford Bridge pitch announcer publicly hailed three people as he strode about the pitch with microphone in hand.

Ex-Chelsea and now Liverpool coach Steve Clarke and one-time Stamford Bridge right-back Glen Johnson were singled out, before a special razzmatazz welcome was voiced for the new £50m Fernando Torres.

Well, he certainly got his first two tributes right.

On 65 minutes, Torres was withdrawn from the action by Carlo Ancelotti, bringing an end to an ineffectual afternoon for the Spaniard.

Four minutes later, almost on cue, Liverpool had taken the lead.

Raul Meireles brilliantly hooked past Petr Cech to send the travelling Scouse support into unabated delirium.

This was akin to the Portuguese midfielder – whose contribution has been immense in recent weeks – defiantly declaring to Torres, “We’re the club on the up!”

“You should have stayed at a big club”, crowed the Liverpool support as a disgruntled Torres wrapped up warm on the bench.

With the Reds matching and outperforming Chelsea in every department, that chant was perfectly timed.

Make no mistake, this was a hugely deserved win for Kenny Dalglish’s men who served up a performance of guts, commitment and no little skill.

There were man of the match candidates all round the pitch, but the influence of Lucas in central midfield and Glen Johnson at left-back was huge.

Playing like this, a Champions League place cannot be ruled out, as Liverpool now stand sixth points off Chelsea in fourth place.

Liverpool made two changes from the side which beat Stoke 2-0 at Anfield on Wednesday night with Maxi Rodriguez and Jamie Carragher coming in for Fabio Aurelio and Sotorios Kyrgiakos while Luis Suarez again sat on the bench.

Torres got the nod from Carlo Ancelotti, playing alongside Anelka and Drogba, and the Spaniard had his first glimpse of goal within two minutes, blazing over after a wayward Rodriguez pass.

The first 15 minutes were cagey, but Liverpool’s five-man midfield easily held Chelsea at bay with a deflected Didier Drogba shot flying wide of Reina’s post.

Torres got a further chance on the half hour, but he found his old pal Jamie Carragher, back from his dislocated shoulder, more than a match for him with a whole-hearted block.

But despite Chelsea’s mounting pressure it was Liverpool who came within a whisker of scoring the opener.

A Meireles pass eventually made its way to Gerrard out on the left and his low cross was met by Rodriguez who crashed against the bar.

It was a glaring miss from the Argentinian from only a few yards out, connecting with his ankle when any true contact would have done the trick.

The miss seemed to stun Chelsea who suddenly realised Liverpool hadn’t just turned up for the ride as Lucas growing increasingly influential in midfield and Gerrard finding room out on the left flank.

It’s been years since a Reds side consistently passed the ball well at Stamford Bridge and won the bulk of the tackle exchanges, but that was the reality yesterday.

Chelsea were certainly rattled and the interval arrived with Cech and Ivanovic almost coming to blows after getting themselves in a tangle following a Martin Kelly cross.

Liverpool began the second half in much the same fashion they had started the first, confidently knocking the ball to feet, and they went close again with a drive from Glen Johnson flashing narrowly wide.

The Londoners, however, sensed the Reds growing impetus and responded themselves, Drogba going close after Andre Marriner had waved away optimistic penalty appeals following a clash between Ashley Cole and Carragher.

It was anyone’s game and Anelka’s rasping shot past the post was a warning to Liverpool while Essien’s dipping effort minutes later was even closer.

But if one Chelsea striker was going close, it was a different story for Torres who was substituted to loud mocking cheers from the travelling support.

The Spaniard looked crestfallen as he trotted off having delivered a minimal impact during his hour on the pitch.

And to rub salt into the wounds, Liverpool next showed the £50m man exactly how a goalscorer finds the net.

A wicked Gerrard cross was inches away from Kuyt, but an onrushing Raul Meireles was on hand to expertly hook past Cech.

The Portuguese man’s contribution to the Liverpool cause has been massive in recent weeks, and this his fourth goal in five games showed exactly why Roy Hodgson invested £11.5m in the former Porto man.

Predictably Chelsea rallied, but with the whole of the Reds back line in miserly mood, they kept the Londoners at bay.

Liverpool still remained a threat, Kuyt raiding on the left and feeding substitute Aurelio whose hammered drive was saved by Cech.

With the game still in the balance, the Reds played out the last 10 minutes with almost nonchalant ease.

At the start of this game, the sight of Fernando Torres wearing a blue shirt had seemed so very wrong.

But by the end, it hardly seemed to matter.

Chelsea had been beaten on their own patch without either £35m Andy Carroll or £22.8m Luis Suarez.

The future looks incredibly bright.

“At Liverpool, you're expected to win most games, so you can't get too carried away as the standards here are so high,” JAMIE CARRAGHER keeps his feet on the ground after victory.

“We have to give Fernando time to adjust to the shape, but I think that he will do it quickly,” CARLO ANCELOTTI defends Fernando Torres after substituting the former Liverpool striker

CHELSEA: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Essien, Lampard, Torres (Kalou, 65), Drogba, Mikel, Bosingwa (Luiz, 72), Terry, Anelka Not used: Turnbull, Luiz, Malouda, Ferreira, Kalou, McEachran, Sala.

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Johnson, Meireles(Poulsen, 83), Agger, Gerrard, Rodriguez (Aurelio, 75) Kuyt, Lucas, Carragher, Kelly, Skrtel Not used: Gulacsi, Aurelio, Suarez, Jovanovic, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Poulsen.

GOALS: Meireles (69).

CARDS: Booked – Lucas, Mikel

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).


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