Torres endures nightmare debut as Liverpool recover old swagger
Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1
Monday 07 February 2011
The first shot that Fernando Torres struck yesterday afternoon hit the banner midway up the Shed End that commemorates Peter Osgood, another famous Chelsea No 9, and if that sounds bad for the £50m man, it got even worse from there.
It was another extraordinary result in an extraordinary weekend of Premier League football in which events on the pitch steadfastly refused to stick to the script. Torres had little discernible effect on the game and was substituted after 66 minutes, Liverpool won the match without Luis Suarez even setting foot on the pitch and the Roman Abramovich strategy to rejuvenate his team fizzled like a damp firework.
Torres will undoubtedly score goals for his new club, but this was one of those occasions when football's great unpredictability confounds billionaire owners and record-breaking signings and serves up a result that no one really expected.
It was Jamie Carragher, the old warhorse who would no sooner contemplate leaving Merseyside than he would contemplate changing his name to Sandra, to whom the day belonged as well as an unlikely supporting cast of Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva and Glen Johnson.
Carragher's crowning moment came when, as Torres pulled the trigger on a through ball from Didier Drogba, the Liverpool defender slid across and blocked the shot as soon as it left the striker's foot. It was reminiscent of Carragher's great cramp-inducing tackle on Andrei Shevchenko in the 2005 Champions League final and this in his first game back since November.
But Carragher and his two fellow centre-halves that were part of Kenny Dalglish's 3-5-1-1 formation – a system used only for the second time – closed Torres, Drogba and Nicolas Anelka out of this game. When Torres was called to the touchline there was a sense that half the job had been done, and three minutes later Meireles' goal reflected the direction the game was heading.
Carlo Ancelotti's team have now lost seven league games, more in a single season than any since Claudio Ranieri's side lost seven in 2003-04 and the boost of their re-connection with Abramovich's enormous fortune has been postponed. Funnily enough, the player who really impressed was new signing David Luiz who played only 27 minutes as a substitute but looked every inch a talented defender.
As for the rest, it was a tired, mish-mash of a performance. It was always going to need something special to break down what was effectively a five-man defence, especially as the selection of three centre-forwards denied Chelsea width. Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa leant Chelsea some threat on the wings but the arrival of Torres does present Ancelotti with problems.
On the pitch before the game there was a snatched conversation between Drogba and Torres that looked like an ad hoc division of labour between the two strikers. Whatever they decided upon it did not work. Drogba barely had a shot on goal and none of Chelsea's three forward players fancied it much when it came to tracking back.
Chelsea should have been given a penalty in time added on at the end of the game when Johnson craftily barged into the back of Branislav Ivanovic in the Liverpool area. But what was surprising about Chelsea is that for all the attacking talent at their disposal, Ancelotti's side created so few chances.
It will not just be a case of Ancelotti selecting all his strikers in future, he will have to find a combination that actually works – he hinted as much after the game – and that will mean making some tough choices. That is a lot to consider with only 13 games left of the season and the gap to Manchester United still a troubling 10 points.
When the focus on Torres is put to one side, and the emotion taken out of the occasion the biggest blow to Chelsea is that they could not close the lead that United have on them. Once again Sir Alex Ferguson's team have escaped relatively lightly after that defeat to Wolves. Only Manchester City have gained three points on them after the leaders' worst result of the season.
It was hard to recall a single Chelsea chance other than a Florent Malouda shot that Pepe Reina blocked on 75 minutes. Their diamond formation in midfield played into the hands of Liverpool who closed down the central areas with excellent performances from Lucas and Meireles.
This time it was not Steven Gerrard who was required to perform his usual heroics; instead he laid on the ball for Meireles' goal. Making space for himself down the right wing Gerrard struck a cross that, disastrously for Chelsea, Petr Cech and Ivanovic left to one another. Although the ball travelled beyond the far post, Meireles did an excellent job of getting his foot round it and steering it inside the post.
Once ahead it never looked likely that Liverpool would relinquish that lead and something of that old intransigence that they made their trademark in games against Chelsea in the Rafael Benitez years was evident. They seem to perform best when they have something to defend and when the occasion requires them to be stoic and determined.
Otherwise their best chance came when Maxi Rodriguez got his shin on Gerrard's fast-travelling cross from the left from which, a matter of yards from goal, Rodriguez could not control his shot and instead rattled the crossbar. Chelsea never even got that close to their opponents' goal.
With four straight wins, four clean sheets and sixth place in the table this job is becoming Dalglish's by default. Some would argue he has already done enough. Last night he played down his role in the whole show and contended that he would not stand in the way of anyone who was better suited to the job. But who is he kidding? Liverpool is becoming Dalglish's club again and having nursed them through the departure of Torres, to win this game six days later only cemented his position.
"It has been a great week for us," he said, renewing that old habit of dismissing anyone or anything outside of Liverpool. Dalglish has certainly delivered Liverpool a grand consolation in the Torres saga. Torres got his move but his moment of glory will have to wait.
Substitutes: Chelsea Kalou (Torres, 66), Malouda (Mikel, 72), Luiz (Bosingwa, 73). Unused Turnbull (gk), Ferreira, McEachran, Sala. Liverpool Aurelio (Rodriguez, 75), Poulsen (Meireles, 84). Unused Gulacsi (gk), Kyrgiakos, Suarez, Jovanovic, Ngog.
Booked: Chelsea Mikel Liverpool Lucas.
Possession Chelsea 51% Liverpool 49%.
Attempts on target Chelsea 4 Liverpool 4.
Man of the match Carragher. Match rating: 6/10.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).
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