After a week of hype following the acquisitions Chelsea made at the close of the transfer window, Liverpool threw some rather cold water on the blue parade with a victory at Stamford Bridge. I think it'd be a stretch to describe the win as 'deserved' - Liverpool lacked a cutting edge and were helped somewhat by bizarre officiating, but they came to London to do a specific job, did it, and were rewarded for it with a win that'll live long in the memory.
Liverpool fielded the same 3-6-1 that served them well against Stoke City in midweek, with Maxi Rodriguez replacing the out-of-place Fabio Aurelio in the midfield and Jamie Carragher slotting in for Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the back line. Industrious Dirk Kuyt led the line. Meanwhile, Chelsea fielded the 4-4-2 diamond that slaughtered Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, introducing £50M Fernando Torres at the expense of Salomon Kalou.
It was obvious from the beginning that Chelsea's three-pronged attacking menace of Didier Drogba, Torres, and Nicolas Anelka (acting in the trequartista role that saw him excel last week) were going to be totally shut down. Liverpool had four players tasked with neutralising those three, and furthermore had the centre so tight that Frank Lampard and Michael Essien simply couldn't move forward. The whys we'll save for a different post, but thie game was always destined to be a rather stodgy borefest from the moment those lineups were announced.
Sans an awful tackle from John Obi Mikel on Stephen Gerrard in the first thirty seconds, which drew a yellow card from referee Andre Marriner, the game opened slowly. Only a Torres long-range strike punctuated the boredom, the forward picking up a very sloppy pass from Maxi inside the final third and letting lose from 25 yards. Pepe Reina remained untroubled, however, as the ball sailed harmlessly into the stands. At least we got some entertainment when Petr Cech took out Branislav Ivanovic while both were attempting to claim a loose ball in Chelsea's box, which resulted in a shouting match between goalkeeper and centre back.
It would take half an hour before any chance of consequence emerged, and it was Chelsea who first came close to breaking the deadlock. Drogba, who had hitherto been kept shackled, laid off a pass to Torres inside the Liverpool box. Carragher was forced into a lunging block - Torres' shot was almost certainly going through Reina's legs and into the goal had the lumbering defender not intervened. At the other end, a long range effort by Raul Meireles gave Petr Cech no trouble (though it was travelling at some speed), and then Maxi Rodriguez contrived to miss an open goal from two yards out under minimal pressure, hitting the crossbar rather than the gaping net.
Liverpool had come to Chelsea to play for a draw, and they were certainly doing their job admirably. Aside from a brief spell of Chelsea pressure to start the second half, there continued to be absolutely no threat from either team for the vast majority of play. Salomon Kalou was introduced to change the shape of the game - Chelsea shifting to 4-3-3 to stretch Liverpool's back line, with Torres hauled off rather unceremoniously on his debut. Immediately, disaster struck as Cech made a fatal error of judgment on a cross, leaving Meireles to steal in at the back post and direct a fine finish into the back of the net.
At 1-0, Liverpool dropped into an even more defensive shell, but now in their more familiar shape, Chelsea were actually looking like a team capable of attacking. Florent Malouda, another substitute, caused some major problems with his ability to play down the left wing - he was the main reason Liverpool fans had a nervy final fifteen minutes. David Luiz also made his debut as a substitute, coming in for Jose Bosingwa (Ivanovic moved to right back) and was extremely impressive at both ends of the pitch. His defensive ability was somewhat hard to gauge with Liverpool refusing to do any attacking whatsoever, but his skill on the ball was obvious. Sideshow Jesus has arrived.
It would have been deliciously poignant had the defender scored on his debut rather than the far more hyped Torres, but it wasn't to be, and Liverpool ended up finishing the game fairly comfortably, partially thanks to the referre ignoring a clear Lucas handball in the box followed by a Glen Johnson foul on Branislav Ivanovic that should have also been a penalty. It's difficult to pin the loss on Marriner, however - Chelsea shouldn't be in a position where they need to rely on the referee's decision to claim points against Liverpool. They didn't deserve to lose, but they sure didn't deserve the win either.