Monday, November 08, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 0 Chelsea

Fernando Torres produced a striker's masterclass to score twice as Liverpool inflicted only a second defeat of the season on Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea.

The Spain international has a liking for playing the Londoners at Anfield, as his six goals in five matches against them at home shows.

Chelsea were heavily linked with a summer bid for Torres but it never materialised and manager Carlo Ancelotti said he did not need to buy the striker as he was satisfied with his own forwards.

However, Torres was more than happy to give a display of his quality to the Blues boss, whose side had conceded only three goals in 10 league games prior to kick-off.

It was always likely the result would come down to who took their chances and with Didier Drogba left on the bench until the second half, Torres was given a head start.

He did not need a second invitation and in addition to his two expertly-taken first-half goals he was a constant threat to the Chelsea defence

Torres has been short of form this season but he has always been able to produce a performance against Chelsea at Anfield over the years and this was no different.

It took just 11 minutes for him to reopen old wounds with a classic piece of finishing courtesy of a cross from Dirk Kuyt, making a welcome return after a month's absence with an ankle injury, on the left.

The Dutchman chipped a pass over the head of John Terry and Torres took one touch before firing past Petr Cech.

Having looked short of confidence this season the 26-year-old appeared to spring to life, immediately going on a short run and firing wide.

Possession was fairly even but Liverpool created the best chances, having a penalty shout dismissed when Terry's clearance bounced up on to Yuri Zhirkov's arm from which Raul Meireles shot at Cech.

Torres did not give the goalkeeper any such chance with his second just before half-time with a strike even better than his opener and reminiscent of his first ever goal for the club - also against Chelsea.

Meireles dispossessed Ashley Cole in the centre of the pitch and rolled the ball out to the Spaniard on the left of the penalty area.

Cutting inside he curled a shot around Branislav Ivanovic and inside Terry and the far post.

It was a fitting end to undoubtedly Liverpool's best first half of the season, which was as much down to excellent organisation at the back as Torres' potency up front.

With Jamie Carragher, restored to centre-back, barking the orders the hosts limited Chelsea to one shot on target - and that a weak Salomon Kalou header straight at Jose Reina.

Drogba's arrival for the start of the second half was inevitable but the Ivory Coast international's first shooting opportunity saw him curl a 30-yard free-kick well wide.

Ramires headed over and Zhirkov's shot was turned around the post by Reina, who also produced a brilliant close-range stop to deny Florent Malouda.

Having got themselves into a winning position it was now a question of holding on to it for Liverpool as Chelsea ramped up the pressure.

Torres may be paid to score goals but the sight of him hoofing the ball into the upper tier of the Centenary Stand was testament to the determination of everyone to hang on at all costs.

Kuyt almost wrapped things up 15 minutes from time only for Cech's outstretched leg to divert the ball wide.

Chelsea knew it was not to be their day when Nicolas Anelka's shot squeezed under Reina, whose slight touch deflected the ball up on to the bar and then Carragher cleared from the lurking Drogba two yards out.

The win moved Liverpool into ninth, the first time they have been in the top half since the opening weekend of the season, after three successive Barclays Premier League victories.

They are still not in a position to challenge Chelsea at the top of the table - where they still have a two-point lead over Manchester United - but they proved, on their day and with Torres on form, they remain a match for any side.

It seems a corner has now been turned in Roy Hodgson's reign, and with matches to come against Wigan, Stoke and West Ham there is a real chance for them to restore some of the damage done by their poor start to the season.

Carlo Ancelotti: Fernando Torres Was ‘Fantastic’ And Liverpool Deserved To Win

Carlo Ancelotti admitted that Chelsea deserved to lose to Liverpool today but said his team are still in pole position to retain their Premier League crown.

The Stamford Bridge manager was measured in response to Chelsea’s second League defeat of the season following the 1-0 reverse at Manchester City in September.

“We knew it would be difficult to improve our gap here at the top of the league,” said Ancelotti. “We are in a better position compared to the other teams. We need to maintain our focus and not be worried.”

Ancelotti admitted his team were slow out of the blocks in the first half and then struggled to break down the resilient hosts.

He said: “We didn’t play quick enough in the first half. It took a lot of time to build the play from the back and we didn’t have the ability to find space in the opponent’s half. Also, Liverpool defended very well in the first half and on the counter-attack scored two fantastic goals through Torres.

“It was very difficult for us to come back in the second half. We tried and played with strong intensity but Liverpool defensively played very well for 90 minutes. Defensively, all the players played for the team. For this reason, they deserved to win.

“Obviously, the result is not good but the performance in the second half was better. I’m happy with how my team played in the second half. We had a strong pressure; we deserved to score but were not able to.”

Ancelotti paid tribute to Fernando Torres who showed “he is a fantastic striker” and said Liverpool can still squeeze into a Champions League position. “They have the opportunity to come back. They can come back to fourth place and fight for this,” said the Italian.

Didier Drogba did not start the game after coming down with a fever last night and came on at half-time even though he was “not 100 per cent fit”.

Ancelotti expects Michael Essien, who did not travel with the squad, to return from a toe injury on Wednesday against Fulham. “I hope that he will be able to play on Wednesday,” said the manager.

Roy Hodgson: Liverpool Need To Strengthen Squad In January Transfer Window

Roy Hodgson today sent out a message to Liverpool’s American owners by saying that it is essential the squad is strengthened in January.

In the aftermath of a convincing 2-0 victory over Premier League champions Chelsea, which secured his team’s fourth consecutive win, Hodgson said he “preached caution” and refused to get carried away.

“Our squad needs to be a lot stronger than it is today and that can only be done through the transfer window to come,” said the Liverpool manager in his post-match press conference.

“They [NESV, the American owners] have been very good for the club. For a long period of time we were heading in the wrong direction and there was a lot of concern and uncertainty. They are realistic people because they know we don’t turn things around with a magic wand.”

With Glen Johnson ruled out with a groin injury before kick-off and Sotiros Kyrgiakos suffering from tonsillitis, Hodgson had to reshuffle his defence before the game and could only field unproven youngsters on the substitutes’ bench.

“The squad is looking pretty small at the moment with the injuries and the sicknesses we are picking up,” he said. “I need some players back. If we can get through the next few games we can build.

“Now I prefer to try and keep my feet on the ground. We need to produce a lot more performances like that between now and May. The only trouble with this league is you can go back to 16th quickly.”

Nevertheless, Hodgson was in chirpy mood after his team produced arguably their best display under his fraught reign.

He said: “I’m pleased, of course. I prefer to talk about the team performance rather than individuals but Fernando Torres will get the plaudits. He has taken his share of criticism, some of which was exaggerated and not fully deserved.

“He was certainly back to his best today and played very well. One always hopes that playing at this level you have got that quality of front player. Chelsea have had a lot of success with the quality of their front players.”

Asked if it was his greatest high given the lows he has suffered during his four-month spell at Anfield, the former Fulham manager quipped: “What ups are you talking about? The most enjoyable day at Liverpool was the day I signed. It’s been all downhill since.”

Hodgson did not manage to beat Chelsea during his time at Fulham and said this gave today’s result an even greater resonance.

“It is very satisfying,” he explained. “They are a very good team and showed that in the second half. They aren’t going to lose many matches this season and I’m pleased we chalked one [win] up.

Dirk Kuyt's Work Ethic Defines Liverpool's Impressive Win Over Chelsea

It is only in retrospect that a possible defining moment emerges. But the changes that Roy Hodgson made, whether by accident or design due to injury (Glen Johnson) and availability (Dirk Kuyt), gave Liverpool the opportunity to play with a system that showed Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva in the best light. Fernando Torres, too, enjoyed the day.

I recall a situation in 1986-87 when at Tottenham Hotspur. Because of the transfer of Graham Roberts to Rangers, an injury to Tony Galvin and the need to negate Glenn Hoddle's down side, a 4-5-1 system was born that glowed for the whole season. Liverpool, I feel, may have done similarly at Anfield yesterday.

Kuyt lacks guile but his work-rate is often wasted, in my view, parading the touchline on the right side. Lucas has struggled to win admirers when trying to contain midfield runners and Gerrard, certainly the dynamo, needs to be both central and deeper so he can defend and attack when the opportunity arises.

Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodríguez, who have acclimatized slowly to Premier League football, were put to better use on the outside of the five-man midfield rather than further infield.

Kuyt was the most important figure in this hardworking display, particularly in the second half when they had to quell the tide of sharp passing attacks from Chelsea. When possession changed hands the Dutchman quickly moved into a position where he could help to stifle the influence of Mikel John Obi in the centre of Chelsea's midfield. He appeared to have three lungs as he worked and challenged, always putting team before self.

Although Chelsea had plenty of possession, Liverpool were strong and solid and must have given Hodgson great heart. At Fulham he had a system that replicated the way Liverpool played yesterday. In this rearrangement Jamie Carragher went from right-back to centre-back where he is far more comfortable because he does not have to face too many passing options from the advanced positions he is forced to take up when playing at full-back.

When the ball was wide Carragher and Martin Skrtel made sure they stayed firm on the edge of the area and were always in good positions to intercept typical Chelsea-style low crosses

Hodgson may have been quietly bewildered this week at the US owners' judgment in their choice for their director of football but he will have made several important points with this vibrant display.

Meireles and Rodríguez are yet to shine, but they still did an important job denying Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole advanced attacking positions. This was important, too. Crucially, it was the industry of Kuyt when Liverpool lost possession that helped Lucas and Gerrard do their work with such efficiency.

Liverpool Owner Henry Happy With Chelsea Victory

Liverpool owner John W Henry was present to witness the Reds' best performance of the season against Chelsea on Sunday, and he later appeared to question whether Roy Hodgson's men had not been playing as a team at times this season.

Fernando Torres struck two first-half goals to send Liverpool level with a group of clubs including Tottenham on 15 points, as the champions were downed at Anfield. Having lost to Blackpool at the same ground earlier in the season, the change in mood in the red half of Merseyside has been vast over the past month.

Liverpool have dragged themselves out of the relegation zone with back-to-back wins against Blackburn, Bolton and Chelsea, and they are now targeting a return to the top four. And Henry, who witnessed his first game in the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton, seemed to hint that Hodgson now has his players pulling in the same direction for the first time.

"An indication of what can happen when this group comes together as one?'' he wrote on Twitter.”The second goal was perfection. Learned what a very clean sheet is.''

Liverpool Set Sights On Highly Rated Wolves Winger Matt Jarvis

Roy Hodgson is reportedly interested in signing Wolves highly rated winger Matt Jarvis as he looks to add more creativity to his improving Liverpool line up. The Anfield boss has earmarked a move for the 24 year old and hopes to funds to make a significant bid in January.

The former Gillingham man has been in excellent form over the past 18 months and some sources believe that Jarvis may be about to be considered for an England call up. Mick McCarthy will fight off any advance for one of his most prized asset but could find it hard to prevent the Middlesbrough born wide man from having his head turned by such interest.

Valued in the £8-10m bracket Matt Jarvis would add more natural width to the Liverpool side and appears to be a player that Hodgson greatly admires. Whilst clearly not a big name signing the Wolves man has greatly impressed this season and has apparently garnered interest from a number of top Premier League outfits.

John W. Henry Admits Gerrard Sale Threat

Liverpool owner John W Henry has admitted that Kop idol Steven Gerrard could have been sold in the summer if he had taken over the club sooner.

Henry and Anfield’s new chairman, Tom Werner, are committed to following the strategy which has underpinned their success at baseball club the Boston Red Sox.

That involves selling players who reach the 30-year-old mark and whose resale value is diminishing, in favour of bringing in younger players who have yet to reach their potential.

That would even have left Anfield talisman Gerrard, 30, vulnerable if Henry and Werner’s New England Sports Ventures (NESV) had been in situ during the summer. Another local hero, Jamie Carragher, would have struggled to have earned the lucrative new two-year deal he has just signed at the age of 32.

An NESV insider revealed: “You always have to plan for the future and if that means moving on big players, providing the transfer fee is right, then so be it.”

Liverpool under Henry and Werner would have seriously considered any substantial summer bids for England star Gerrard.

Henry was thankful that Gerrard is still around after watching him hit a 14-minute hat-trick in Thursday’s 3-1 Europa League win over Napoli.

In July 2009 Gerrard signed a new four-year contract worth £140,000 a week which keeps him at Liverpool until 2013.

Agger Blow For Reds

Liverpool have suffered a blow with the news that defender Daniel Agger is out of action through injury indefinitely.

The Danish stopper has been hampered by a calf injury this term and he was dispatched to see a specialist earlier this week.

Unfortunately for manager Roy Hodgson Agger's scans have not revealed good news with more rest needed for the 25-year-old.

Agger has been told he cannot train and Hodgson does not even have a date in which the talented stopper can work on his fitness.

The news was the only negative note on a superb Sunday for Liverpool after they beat leaders Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield.

"Agger is long-term. They can't put a date on it," said Hodgson. "So it could be very long-term.

"At the moment he can't train, he has just got to rest and wait for the next time he goes to see the specialist again.

"They are very anxious that bone doesn't form. It is a calcification issue and training would certainly accelerate the calcification.

"Now they have to wait and hope the body breaks down the calcifying elements before he can even think about training again."