James Lawton: Street-smart Dalglish trumps the power of Chelsea's purse

Extraordinarily, Liverpool are now carried by the not quite impossible ambition of returningto Champions League football. This is galvanising work indeed
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The Independent Online

Life isn't always like this but maybe it should be. In football, certainly, there is a case for periodic lessons about what is right and what is wrong and if there is ever an official call for this service we know where to go.

It is to Stamford Bridge on the day Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich sought to prove that if you have enough money you can buy anything. Well, most of the time it is probably true but what the purchasing power of the oligarch delivered on the day Liverpool produced the result of a thousand dreams looked more than anything like a whole heap of trouble.

At the very least, it threw up an immediate question mark against Carlo Ancelotti's ability to quickly integrate Fernando Torres into a team that was previously suggesting it might just have found enough of its old unity and purpose to make a serious late run at the title.

For the moment at least that looks so much fanciful thinking and inevitably so in the wake of Torres' disconsolate departure from a game in which Liverpool's redeemer from the past Kenny Dalgish proved that he still may just have half an idea on how to win football matches.

This, of course, is English understatement applied to a classic piece of Glaswegian street smarts.

Dalglish, with the help of his assistant Steve Clarke, produced a defensive masterclass that allowed him to leave £22m instant hero Luis Suarez on the bench and still strip down Abramovich's belief that he could change the course of a season with a couple of flourishes of his cheque book.

Liverpool, with three centre-backs among whom Jamie Carragher ransacked his memory for some of his most memorable defensive performances, shut down the threat of Torres with something that amounted almost to open contempt. While they did that, Didier Drogba was left with an expression that suggested he had not been one of the wildest celebrants of the Torres masterstroke.

Yes, of course it is early days and even the most vengeful Liverpool supporters will allow that their former hero has too much talent for it to suddenly waste away. However, they are also entitled to give new credence to Dalglish's conviction that the club will have a sturdier spirit in the absence of a player clearly out of sympathy with its deepest ambitions.

Extraordinarily, Liverpool are now carried by the not quite impossible ambition of returning to Champions League football. Four straight wins, four clean sheets, and now a result that was so impressive it might properly signal the end of a nightmare stretching into its second year ... this is galvanising work indeed.

When the Liverpool manager celebrated Raul Meireles' coolly taken goal after panic gripped the Chelsea defence, it was the second time he had responded to a moment that anticipated a stunning milestone in his return to the action.

Earlier, he reacted with premature joy to a goal that never happened and in a way that reminded us, all over again, of how his own proficiency in front of goal relied so much on perfect anticipation.

He was aghast when Maxi Rodriguez failed to exploit a chance in front of an open goal that had been shaped by Steven Gerrard, the Argentine hitting the cross-bar from a back-sloping stance when a simple prod forward would have done some potentially shattering business.

But even at that disappointing moment the Liverpool manager was surely insulated against the worst of despair.

He had had plenty of evidence to suggest there might indeed be viable life after Torres – a conviction that was further strengthened when Ancelotti pulled off the £50m man in favour of Salomon Kalou. Florent Malouda also appeared. It was as though the Italian was trying to re-create some of the certainties of an encouraging recent past.

Unfortunately for him, Liverpool were reaching back a little further into their own tradition. They were playing football of competitive depth and character – and also reminding us of what can happen when a manager puts a little trust into his players, gives them the crucial benefit of his confidence that they can do a difficult job of work.

Caretaker manager? The American owners should end this joke as soon as they can.



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