Monday, 7 February 2011

Magnificent Meireles leaves traitor Torres feeling blue

Liverpool's midfield maestro Raul Meireles netted his fourth goal in five games yesterday as the Reds shocked Stamford Bridge to secure their third away win of the season, leaving new £50 million Chelsea striker Fernando Torres surely questioning the logic of his move away from Anfield after only a single match.

A determined defensive display from Dalglish's impressive side set a firm foundation for us to go on to claim a remarkable 1-0 victory in what was quite possibly the most over hyped fixture of the season so far. Understandably the debut of Fernando Torres dominated the pre-match hysteria, however the 'Spanish Owen' failed to dominate the match as Liverpool's centre back trio of Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and the returning Jamie Carragher successfully nullified the daunting threat posed by Chelsea's attacking triumvirate of Torres, Drogba and Anelka, a strike force with a combined value of approximately £90 million.

Liverpool continued with three centre backs and two wing backs in the form of Johnson and Kelly following the relatively successful trial against Stoke in midweek. Meanwhile, Dirk Kuyt ploughed a lone furrow up front as Suarez started on the bench and Carroll remained on the treatment table with a thigh injury.

This defensive structure, inspired by former Chelsea player and assistant manager Steve Clarke, proved effective throughout as the hosts struggled to penetrate the resolute backline constructed by Liverpool's current assistant manager. Although the Londoners enjoyed plenty of possession during the opening stages, Liverpool were efficient and enthusiastic as they successfully disrupted the Blues' rhythm.

With Liverpool defending superbly chances were at a premium, and Chelsea were restricted to shots from range as Torres and Drogba struck high and wide within the first 20 minutes. Ivanovic's glanced header drifted wide mid-way through the half after the Serbian international had muscled past his marker to reach Frank Lampard's corner, before Chelsea squandered a great opportunity as Jamie Carragher brilliantly blocked Torres' shot after he'd been played through by Didier Drogba. It was a simply outstanding block from the Reds' vice captain, who was absolutely determined to ensure that the traitorous Torres endured a miserable debut for his new club.

From that point onwards Liverpool began to claim the initiative, and ended the first period in the ascendancy as the Merseysiders built on and developed the confidence and belief instilled by new boss Kenny Dalglish and derived from a recent run of positive results.

Raul Meireles' low long-range effort was tame and comfortably stopped by Cech just past the half hour mark, before Maxi squandered the best chance of the match moments later. Skipper Steven Gerrard drilled the ball across the Chelsea goalmouth from the left hand side to Maxi, who somehow contrived to hit the cross bar from scarcely three yards out. Unbelievably the Argentine had managed to smash the ball against the bar when only a touch was needed to tap the ball over the line and give the visitors a crucial lead.

Many thought that would be a morale sapping moment for the Reds and that it would turn out to be a pivotal stage where the game swung in Chelsea's favour. However, thankfully that wasn't the case as Liverpool finished the half the better whilst the hosts grew increasingly frustrated, with that frustration bubbling over during first half injury time when Cech and Ivanovic had an angry confrontation after their lack of communication had almost allowed Meireles a clear cut chance following a cracking cross from Kelly.

Liverpool continued to frustrate the Blues throughout the second half and Pepe Reina was virtually a spectator as the Reds' solid and stable performance meant the home side created few good goalscoring opportunities. In fact, it was the visitors who seemed to pose the greater threat as our counter attacks became more threatening while our defence comfortably dealt with the Champions at the back.

This was demonstrated on 55 minutes when Glen Johnson's scintillating strike flew just over the cross bar from 25 yards out after Kuyt had laid the ball off for the English full back. Only a minute later Chelsea's cries for a penalty fell on deaf ears after Cole had went down under Carra's challenge, before Drogba's effort immediately after the collision deflected wide of the woodwork.

Nicolas Anelka, who was rumoured to be heading to Anfield as part of the Torres deal at one stage during the transfer window, found space 'between the lines' mid-way through the second half however his low effort from distance failed to test Reina as it skipped past the post.

Soon after Fernando Torres received a raucous and ironic cheer from the Liverpool supporters as he was replaced by Kalou following an ineffective first 66 minutes for his new side that delighted his former fans. Moments later our joy was doubled as Raul Meireles took advantage of some shockingly poor defending to secure the all important opener for the Reds. Gerrard's right wing cross appeared to be easy for Cech to gather, however haphazard defending during a fatal mix up between Cech and his backline under pressure from Kuyt allowed Meireles to run unmarked to reach the ball and fire home magnificently from 10 yards.

Although Chelsea's catastrophic defending certainly helped the away side, the Liverpool players and fans couldn't have cared less as they celebrated the first goal scored by a Liverpool player at Stamford Bridge for seven years deliriously, while the crestfallen Torres looked on disbelievingly.

On 73 minutes Reina had to remain big at his near post to stop Malouda's shot from the angle after the Frenchman had been found in the box by his compatriot Nicolas Anelka. However, apart from that the expected barrage of pressure from Chelsea failed to materialise and the hosts were restricted to only a couple of penalty claims as the Reds retained control superbly at the back.

The first of those arrived ten minutes from time when referee Andre Marriner correctly ignored Chelsea's appeals after Lucas had accidentally handled in the box. The ball clearly struck the Brazilian's hand however it was by his side and there was obviously no way he could have moved his hand out of the way in time, even though he did attempt to do so. From that potentially dangerous situation Liverpool broke quickly and intelligently, with Cech eventually making a good save to deny Aurelio after the Liverpool substitute had combined well with Kuyt to fashion an opening.

Liverpool rode their luck in injury time though and were fortunate to escape unscathed when the referee failed to award a spot kick after Glen Johnson had evidently, aggressively and unfairly shoulder charged Ivanovic off the ball in the box as the defender competed with Agger in the air.

It should have been a penalty however Liverpool had earned the right to a bit of good fortune after one of our best performances of the season so far. A tremendous team display was embellished with individual brilliance from the likes of Jamie Carragher, who defended expertly and patrolled the backline brilliantly, and Raul Meireles, whose energetic and conscientious display was rewarded fittingly with yet another impressive goal.

Special praise must be reserved for Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke, who masterminded an excellent performance and decisively won the key tactical battle over Carlo Ancelotti.

Incredibly this is only our third away victory of the campaign, however such an impressive victory against an ordinarily imperious Chelsea side should spur on Dalglish's troops to an improved showing on the road in 2011. Also, with the Reds sitting in sixth only six points behind fourth placed Chelsea, Champions League qualification now seems a distant possibility, as opposed to the pipedream that it was correctly considered to be earlier this season.

Following four wins on the bounce and with relegation candidates Wigan Athletic and West Ham United next up, Kenny Dalglish and his willing troops must surely be dreaming of and aiming for a top four finish, although the focus will rightly remain on taking one game at a time, in keeping with the Liverpool Way so scrupulously observed by the legendary Scot.


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