Resurrected Fernando Torres, Liverpool Conquer Chelsea at Anfield, 2-0

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Resurrected Fernando Torres, Liverpool Conquer Chelsea at Anfield, 2-0

Analysis: Solid defending, great goalkeeping, offensive opportunism and Fernando Torres’ brilliant finishing added up to a 2-0 victory over the league’s top team — a truly fantastic performance.

The first half of the match was an offensively oriented, even contest in which the teams traded the attacking momentum. Liverpool’s defense, particularly the strong play of Martin Kelly defending Malouda and Cole in the right back position, ceded few legitimate scoring chances. Chelsea had their share of crosses, but Liverpool was strong in the air — even without Kyrgiakos — largely due to the help from Meireles, Lucas and even Kuyt and Torres.

Going forward, Liverpool still weren’t as aggressive as they could’ve been, but Kuyt’s presence transformed their counterattack, and Meireles’ improved form also helped.  Liverpool’s two goals on the counter were far from their only legitimate countering chances. They were, however, Torres’ only two chances. As brilliant as both finishes were, he still needs to be brought into the offense to a greater extent. Whether that is an issue with tactics, talent or Torres himself remains unclear. Regardless, his play was as encouraging as could be.

The only player who didn’t have an exceptional game for Liverpool was Maxi Rodriguez. He was overshadowed by Kuyt on the flanks, and he turned a cherry-on-top goal opportunity into an obvious dive.

The second half featured full-fledged bunker mode by Liverpool, but it worked out. Everybody contributed on defense, Reina made some incredible saves, and the scoreline held. As desperate as Chelsea looked going forward, Liverpool didn’t look all that frazzled in defense. Surely Chelsea had chances, but Liverpool did the bunker job against Chelsea about as well as you can do it.

For Chelsea, Malouda looked frustrated throughout, but he was still the team’s most influential player — combining on the left flank with Cole and Zhirkov. Kalou was largely ineffective, and while Drogba and Anelka had moments, neither dominated the game. Mikel and Ramires were okay, but they both disappeared at times. Terry and Alex did not have their best game — they had given up three goals all season, and now have given up five. Ivanovic and Cole, however, continued their strong form.

All in all, Chelsea deserved their second loss of the season, and they now sit just two points clear of Manchester United. They did benefit, though, from Arsenal and Tottenham losses.

As for Liverpool, the Reds now have a signature victory, handing Chelsea their first “big four” loss in eight tries. They have proven that they can hang with anybody — that on some level they are the same team that was a title contender and Champions League staple just two years ago. They now sit at 15 points, just five behind fourth place Manchester City.

The conversation has officially turned from relegation to European glory. Next, it may even involve title hunts.

Full Time, 2-0: Spearing on for Meireles — for the sake of wasting a few seconds.  Terry runs up on a last gasp effort, but the counter is sent to Ngog, who finds Maxi. Cech’s challenge is fair, and Maxi dives — neither is given. The whistle blows after the clearance, and that’s that. 2-0 LIVERPOOL. LIVERPOOL HAVE DONE IT.

90, Liverpool 2-0: The clock is ticking for Chelsea now. Sturridge takes a longball and turns and shoots, but Reina saves the mediocre effort on target. Chelsea look a little resigned now. Ngog is fouled by Alex — the last man — and Howard Webb gives Alex a yellow.

87′, Liverpool 2-0: Shelvey comes on for Kuyt. Anelka shoots from the top of the box and puts great power on the shop. Reina gets a touch on it but it bounces onto the crossbar. Drogba goes for the rebound, but it ends up weakly in Reina’s hands — amazing combination of luck and skill for Reina. Just seconds later, the ball deflects off Carragher and Reina has to dive for it with Drogba looming. Ngog on for Torres.

84′, Liverpool 2-0: The corner misses everybody, and Lucas recovers it and runs half way across the field with the ball. The counter eventually ends with Torres being cut out by Alex. Chelsea goes back forward and Bosingwa wins a corner. It comes to nothing, and Chelsea is forced to rebuild. Liverpool has managed to survive a half hour of bunker mode already — just a few more minutes.

81′, Liverpool 2-0: Cole is knocked over by Kuyt in the area and looks for a penalty, but his claim goes unheard — and wasn’t a strong one.  Chelsea goes forward up the right with Bosingwa, and his cross finds its way into the box where it bounces around to no avail. Chelsea recovers but gives it to Carragher, who clears. Chelsea builds up the left now, and Malouda wins a corner off a low cross.

78′, Liverpool 2-0: More of the same — Chelsea attacks, but to no avail. Liverpool counters well with Gerrard, Torres and Meireles, but eventually it is thwarted at the top of the box. Chelsea clears, but Liverpool gets a throw in their own half. Sturridge has come on for Zhirkov.

75′, Liverpool 2-0: Chelsea comes forward again, but Liverpool wins it and Torres has a chance to counter. Ramires cuts out Torres’ run well. Torres takes a shot from distance thereafter, and it is deflected for a corner.  The corner is great. It bouces around. Meireles’ shot is blocked, but it falls to Kuyt, whose shot is on target and powerful, but is saved by Cech — great save. Second corner by Gerrard wasn’t so good.

72′, Liverpool 2-0: Chelsea build slowly up the right. Ivanovic’s cross bounces around before Terry commits a foul on Kuyt. Bosingwa comes on for Ivanovic. Liverpool free kick now in final third on the right. It’s a good one, but no heads on the end. Maxi Rodriguez thereafter puts a shot on target, but Cech saves.

69′, Liverpool 2-0: Reina is now changing his gloves. Reds hold possession in their own half and eventually cede possession to Chelsea. Drogba is starting to create danger, but Liverpool’s defense is holding admirably — particularly Kelly.

66′, Liverpool 2-0: Chelsea goes down the left again — Zhirkov, Cole and Malouda at work, but the cross is cut out by Reina. Liverpool thereafter win a free kick at midfield. Thereafter, Drogba crosses it in from the right and Malouda puts it on goal. Somehow, Reina saves — amazing save.

63′, Liverpool 2-0: Malouda’s corner is poor, but Chelsea maintain possession. They win a throw in the left corner, and Zhirkov slips into the area and goes for goal. His effort looks on target or post, but Reina saves well for a corner. The corner is cleared back to Cech. Chelsea’s subsequent buildup effort is also rebuffed by a clearance.

60′, Liverpool 2-0: Drogba takes his time with the free kick. He goes for a poweful, low effort around the wall from the right, but can’t get it to hook enough. Chelsea again goes forward and moves the ball well. Cole’s cross finds Ramires, but his header is a foot over the bar. Zhirkov runs forward and a deflection finds Malouda, who wins a corner.

57′, Liverpool 2-0: Chelsea is looking more dangerous up the left, with Malouda making a dangerous cross that nobody could finish from. Thereafter, Zhirkov again found him in dangerous space, but the flag went up. Chelsea again set up shop in Liverpool’s half — they are dominating possession now, and holding a very high line.After a spell, Anelka takes a shot which is deflected by Carragher. Malouda recovers, but eventually it is intercepted. Skrtel concedes a foul on Drogba at the top of the third.

54′, Liverpool 2-0: Liverpool has come out rather back-footed thus far, but understandably so. Malouda again loses the ball for a throw and shakes his head. Liverpool build up an attack of their own instead of simply clearing.  It comes to little, and the teams exchange possession before Liverpool hold the ball in their own half. Chelsea is now pressuring forward intensely.

51′, Liverpool 2-0: Liverpool build up through Kuyt and Meireles, whose cross is cut out by Cech. Chelsea’s forward run is ended by a Malouda foul — he appears frustrated. After the clearance, they build again, but Liverpool clear after an Ivanovic cross misses. Chelsea again build up.

48′, Liverpool 2-0: Drogba comes on for Kalou.  Maxi Rodriguez takes nice effort on goal but is saved by Cech. The game already seems more open and high pressure. Liverpool have work to do yet.

Half, Liverpool 2-0: Liverpool goes into the half with a 2-0 lead.

45′, Liverpool 2-0: Play becomes choppy for a moment, and the referee takes the opportunity to talk to Malouda. Chelsea’s counter turns into a Liverpool counter after a Meireles interception. He lays it to the left for Torres, who puts the ball perfectly in the net, far post, side netting. GOAL. 2-0 Liverpool.

42′, Liverpool 1-0: Malouda’s distance shot is deflected out for a corner, but Zhirkov’s corner is weak. Kalou tries to get on the end of the ball down the right, but it goes out for a goal kick. The goal kick results in a Terry-Torres-Mikel collision that is pretty rough — Terry’s fault. He’s lucky to avoid a card. Gerrard’s free kick was ripped almost as a shot, but it goes for a Liverpool throw. Chelsea takes it, but Liverpool regains in midfield. The ball is exchanged thereafter.

39′, Liverpool 1-0: Chelsea build slowly before Terry sends a surprising longball that hits Kalou perfectly in space in front of goal. A whistle blows for a push — he was onside. Liverpool escape one. Chelsea again build after the clearance, up the right with Ivanovic. Chelsea is whistled for a foul, and Liverpool go forward until Kuyt is whistled. Chelsea build up down the left.

36′, Liverpool 1-0: Liverpool has a counter chance, and Kuyt finds Maxi well, but his poor first touch ends the attack. Chelsea go forward themselves, and Lucas fouls Malouda — who has come into the game. His free kick is decent, and Alex gets on the end of it, but can do nothing with the header.

33′, Liverpool 1-0: Liverpool again enjoy a spell on the attack up the right.  Kelly takes a powerful effort that Terry deflects up and eventually forces out for a goal kick. Chelsea makes a strong attack down the other way — things have opened up here.

30′, Liverpool 1-0: Liverpool maintain possesion up the right, and Lucas is fouled by Malouda in midfield. Kuyt crosses, and the ball bounces around. The ball deflects off Zhirkov’s hands, and it falls to Kelly, who shoots a good effort on target, but it is saved by Cech. Liverpool makes another strong run up the left thereafter, but Chelsea cut it out and build. Chelsea have somewhat lost energy since the opening moments. Kalou and Anelka link up, but an offside is called.

27′, Liverpool 1-0: A turnover by Mikel leaves a foot race between Torres and Alex in a dangerous area, but Alex clears for a throw. Torres heads to Kuyt, but it is collected by Cech. He clears all the way to Reina, who clears, and Chelsea builds from the back — again, no ball pressure. Gerrard and Ramires may be getting into it now. Gerrard commits a foul, but the quick free kick goes to Reina. He clears deep. Chelsea then sends a longball right back to him.

24′, Liverpool 1-0: Chelsea attempt a longball over the top, but it is too heavy, and Reina collects it. Liverpool build from the back with light Chelsea pressure. Eventually, Ramires fouls Gerrard in midfield, and he takes it quickly, but is called back.  He lays it to Meireles, who picks out Torres, but Torres fouls Alex in the area.

21′, Liverpool 1-0: Ball ends up in Reina’s hands harmlessly, and he looks to build from the back, but Chelsea pressures, so he kicks it long. The teams trade possession until Konchesky is forced to kick a longball out for a throw on the right of the area. Liverpool clear well, and Torres and Lucas go on the attack. Zhirkov is forced to foul Lucas, and he is given a yellow in the center at the top of the final third. Gerrard’s set piece comes to no avail.

18′, Liverpool 1-0: Liverpool go on the attack again, making a run up the left with Konchesky. Terry cuts it out and the ball ends up in Cech’s hands. Malouda has been relatively quiet thus far, despite his unreal form this season. He makes his first run of the game and almost finds Cole in the box, but Reina collects. Malouda makes another similar run just seconds later, with the same result. Chelsea again is allowed to build from the back — up the left.

15′, Liverpool 1-0: Great ball by Kuyt to find Torres behind Terry in space, and cool finish by the Spanish star. Chelsea, however, go right back on the attack. Cole crosses to Kalou, whose header is on net, but lacked power. Reina saved. Torres wins a free kick off the goal kick, but it comes to nothing and Chelsea go forward again.

12′, Liverpool 1-0: Liverpool have a chance to build from the back themselves, and Chelsea are not offering much pressure either. Eventually, Kuyt and Gerrard bunch in the middle above the box with the ball and cede possession to Chelsea. Liverpool are given another chance to build after the clearance. They hold the ball well themselves. Kuyt finds Torres in the area. Torres chips Cech. GOAL! TORRES. 1-0 Liverpool.

9′, 0-0: Konchesky takes it forward and delivers in towards Torres. His ball is cut out, but Liverpool retain the ball. Meireles tries to give Torres a through ball, but can’t quite pick him out. Chelsea then push forward — they are holding the ball particularly well today. It’s going to be tough for Liverpool to seem much of it.

6′, 0-0: Alex wins a free kick , but it is taken poorly for Chelsea. Blues maintain possession, but Ramires can’t quite get on the end of the ball in the area — goal kick. Reds win a free kick at the top of the final third. Gerrard’s delivery is strong, but nobody can get on the end. The ball ends up in Cech’s hands, and Chelsea build from the back.

3′, 0-0: Chelsea begins the match in possession — content with a slow buildup. Liverpool offers no pressure on the ball, but Zhirkov gives it up for Meireles. Liverpool look like a counter-attacking side. Kuyt, not Gerrard, is up top with Torres. Chelsea’s possession moves into the offensive zone. They look crisp thus far.

10:30 a.m.: Lineups have been announced, and it appears that Steven Gerrard will be playing up top with Fernando Torres. Dirk Kuyt, as expected, is back on the pitch — starting on the left. Martin Kelly will be replacing Kyrgiakos in the back four. For Chelsea, Didier Drogba will be coming off the bench.

Liverpool

Pepe Reina     (25), goalkeeper
Martin Skrtel    (37), center-left defender
Jamie Carragher    (23), center-right defender
Paul Konchesky    (3), left back
Martin Kelly    (34), right back
Lucas    (21), center-left midfielder
Raul Meireles    (4), center-right midfielder
Dirk Kuyt    (18), left wing
Maxi Rodríguez    (17), right wing
Fernando Torres    (9), forward
Steven Gerrard    (8), forward

Substitutes

Christian Poulsen    (28)
David Ngog    (24)
Martin Hansen    (41)
Jonjo Shelvey    (33)
Jay Spearing    (26)
Danny Wilson    (22)
Milan Jovanovic    (15)

Chelsea

Petr Cech    (1), goalkeeper
John Terry    (26), center-left defender
Alex    (33), center-right defender
Ashley Cole    (3), left back,
Branislav Ivanovic    (2), right back
John Mikel Obi    (12), central midfielder
Yuri Zhirkov    (18), left midfielder
Ramires    (7), right midfielder
Florent Malouda    (15), forward
Nicolas Anelka    (39), left forward
Salomon Kalou    (21), right forward

Substitutes

Didier Drogba    (11)
Paulo Ferreira    (19)
Ross Turnbull    (22)
José Bosingwa    (17)
Daniel Sturridge    (23)
Gael Kakuta    (44)
Joshua McEachran    (46)

7 a.m.: Three points would vault Liverpool from 16th place into the top half of the table, but they wouldn’t be just any three points — they’d be a victory over Chelsea.

By beating the Blues, Liverpool would not only be avenging last season’s Chelsea double, but — more importantly — they’d be proving that the big four are still “the big four,” not the big one, big two, big three, big six or whatever else has come to be the shape of the EPL’s elite over the past 16 months. Furthermore, the win would be proof of something that many onlookers seem to have forgotten — that Liverpool has world class talent worthy of competing with any club in the world.

At stake if they lose, particularly if Chelsea wins in one of their signature romps, is the corroboration of the opposite notion — that the Reds are just no Chelsea, or Manchester United, or Manchester City. Even with a transfer window spending spree looming, that would be a demoralizing pill to swallow.

Still, there is significant reason for optimism. Glen Johnson has returned from injury, and Dirk Kuyt will as well on Sunday. Their presences in wide locations should allow the team to spread itself in possession and play more creatively. Liverpool will likely spend much of the game looking for counterattacking opportunities, and those two players will be integral cogs in such up the right side. Steven Gerrard clearly is on form following Thursday’s hat trick, and his foil, Frank Lampard won’t be on the pitch.

Also, as good as Chelsea has been, their form in England has dipped since late September. Other than their victory over Arsenal, they drew 0-0 against Aston Villa, lost convincingly to Manchester City, came back to beat Blackburn Rovers, and defeated Wolves 2-0 — a scoreline that doesn’t reflect how well Wolves played.

Still, the Reds will be faced with a monumental task at Anfield on Sunday, but if they win, they will have taken three points with monumental meaning.

Lineups will be posted prior to kickoff.

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