Carlo Ancelotti has not reserved his eloquence for Fernando Torres in the past few weeks. While his memorable description of how Steven Gerrard wears his Liverpool shirt "inside him" was part of a paean that sounded suspiciously like a proposition a few days ago, the Italian has persistently rejected the notion of courting the Spaniard. "I've always said Fernando Torres is not our aim for the future," Ancelotti said last week.
It would take a particularly obdurate manager to maintain that indifference today towards a striker whose willingness this summer to stay on for another season at Anfield is understood to have come at the price of a gentleman's agreement, which allows Torres to leave at the end of the season if a strong offer comes in. It was not just two goals of the top order which reminded us of the Torres who has been missing – the dissection of John Terry yesterday was a throwback to the ritual humiliation of Nemanja Vidic at Old Trafford 20 months ago – but the swagger, the movement, the holding play and the spirit he engendered in others.
The only other player on the field yesterday capable of create a sense of apprehension like this is Didier Drogba and indeed you could hear the groan around Anfield when he appeared stripped for action after the interval, the dot matrix board telling that the fever which had left him afflicted on Saturday night had abated. Without Drogba's momentum, Pepe Reina may not have required the two top-class saves which contributed to the course of the afternoon.
But Torres had done enough by then; so much, in fact, that you wondered why the crying need for a player operating alongside or just behind him – it was virtually a 4-4-2 formation in the way the returning Dirk Kuyt started – had not been attended to by Roy Hodgson before the whole sorry saga of Liverpool's last three months had unravelled. Now for Wednesday night at Wigan – a venue where, in the course of a bad defeat last spring, Torres revealed in himself the worst of the introspection which you feel contributes as much to his struggles as his fitness. Only when the delivers against the rest as he does the best – and Ancelotti's indifference to Torres certainly gave him a point to prove – can we assess if we are witnessing the return of the genuine article.
For a day though, Torres was back, and he hauled a fair others along for the ride. Lucas Leiva, a maligned and unfashionable player who has for the last month been quietly dispelling the notion that he has only ever been at Anfield because of Rafael Benitez's misguided loyalty, contributed much to Chelsea's supply line being cut off. Raul Meireles left Anfield to an ovation. And for 45 minutes Gerrard did wear that Liverpool shirt "inside him" and gave Chelsea's Ramires the same kind of welcome he received in defeat at Manchester City in September. At both ends of the M62, the Portuguese never quite recovered from being left on the seat of his pants on the turf.
It is tempting to ascribe Chelsea's defeat – a genuinely extraordinary one given how listless Liverpool have been of late – to the discomfiting effect of sides who press them hard away from home, though Ancelotti's pragmatic – and impressive – response last night seemed a reasonable one. He had actually encountered a perfect Mersey storm. No side can enter a game minus Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Drogba and be entirely unaffected.
The failure to send Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov up against the rookie right-back Martin Kelly more often seemed the only tactical oversight. But that also had something to do with Kelly, selected after Glen Johnson and Sotirios Kyrgiakos called off sick yesterday morning. Older heads than the 20-year-old, whose sole experience of Premier League football was the 19 minutes Benitez gave him in March when Liverpool against Portsmouth, would have been overwhelmed by a full League debut against the champions. But Kelly's two cool headed interceptions early on set the tone. He was not out of his league, despite blagging Florent Malouda's shirt at the end.
Not even Hodgson could have anticipated the support act he had laid on for Torres delivering quite so precisely according to plan when Kuyt, taking on a short pass from Jamie Carragher on 11 minutes, looped a pass over Terry's head for Torres to take down with a wonderful piece of right-foot control and crash into the ground and home, to Petr Cech's right. The second strike was finer. Lucas had just conceded possession, when Meireles won it back and found Torres who required five delicate touches before curling into the top right-hand corner.
Drogba's arrival after the interval created an immediate tension in Liverpool. A minute and a half had elapsed before Martin Skrtel, previously assured, was clattering into the back of him. Reina turned away a powerful shot from Zhirkov, then got his chest in the way of Malouda's point-blank effort from Drogba's low cross. When Drogba's shot under Reina's body deflected up against the crossbar Chelsea knew it was not their day.
Torres believes the best might be yet to come and reflected last night that "I'll be at my best sooner or later, I'm sure." Hodgson, whose job is under scrutiny just like any manager under new ownership, is banking on it being the former.
Man of the match Torres Match rating 8/10
Possession Liverpool 56% Chelsea 44%
Shots on target Liverpool 8 Chelsea 5
Referee H Webb (S Yorks) Attendance 44,238
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