Torres' double strike

Published : Feb 07, 2009 00:00 IST

Liverpool's desire to control the match was rewarded as it went about the task with an undue emphasis on raw effort, writes Kevin McCarra.

Ambition and desperation are intertwined for Liverpool. While they deserved the win that puts them two points behind Manchester United, who have a game in hand, Rafael Benitez's team thrived on the luck of a mistake by the referee, Mike Riley. Fernando Torres broke the deadlock in the 89th minute, with the first of his goals, but Chelsea had lacked Frank Lampard for the last half-hour following a red card.

With his departure Chelsea had to make increasingly desperate blocks to keep Liverpool at bay. Lampard was sent off despite making contact with the ball before the collision with Xabi Alonso. Even if the official could argue that the midfielder's studs were raised, he had done no more than speak to Steven Gerrard for a more reckless foul on Mikel John Obi shortly before. Alonso had been the serious offender in the incident with Lampard but this was a jumble of a match that seemed too much for the officials. Shortly after Liverpool's opener, the Chelsea full-back Jose Bosingwa put his boot into the back of Yossi Benayoun without receiving any punishment.

It was a mostly inept occasion and the efficiency at the heart of the opener hardly belonged here. The left-back Fabio Aurelio flighted the ball to the near post and Torres' header glanced it into the far corner of the net. The Spain centre-forward struck again in stoppage time when a stretching challenge by Ashley Cole accidentally laid the ball into his path.

Liverpool will be heartened by a first League win since December 28. Conversely Chelsea have cause for introspection. Luiz Felipe Scolari said that his side had been inferior all afternoon. Maybe that could have been rectified if Lampard had been around until the close but Chelsea have extracted one point from five League meetings in this campaign with United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

While there continue to be several formidable footballers on the books at Stamford Bridge, Scolari suffers from an unbalanced squad. Resources in attack are meagre. Nicolas Anelka hardly registered and the substitute Didier Drogba does not appear fully engaged in the cause. Creativity has been restricted not only by Joe Cole's injury but also because of the failure of Florent Malouda and Deco.

Liverpool, by comparison, were probably feeling good about themselves. It might have slipped their minds that this was an occasion of frenetic scuffling. The omission of Robbie Keane from the squad, for the second time in three games, will provoke gossip but it may have been ? in the Irishman's interests to duck this. No one's standing was raised here.

For the first time since December 2007 the club's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett were seen in the Anfield directors' box at the same time. They ought to have known what to expect. Frequent meetings in domestic and European competition have ensured that these sides are expert in thwarting one another. By the interval there had been one save with a touch of drama to it, even if it would have been a shock if Petr Cech had not tipped Alonso's shot over the bar after 11 minutes.

While Liverpool were the more energetic, all that activity tended to show up evidence of their limitations. Chelsea were worse but, at times, the mistakes of these sides meshed. After 15 minutes, for instance, John Terry crashed a clearance against Dirk Kuyt, only for the Dutchman to hit the loose ball behind when trying to send over a cross.

It was apt that it took an accident to put the match on the verge of a breakthrough. In the 42nd minute Cech parried Albert Riera's effort against Ashley Cole but the rebound ran wide of the post to spare the left-back an own-goal.

Liverpool's desire to control was ultimately rewarded. They went about the task with an undue emphasis on raw effort. In view of the dip they have suffered in the Premier League, it was, all the same, natural they did not try to live by poise alone. The strain on them has been relieved. Benitez, too, might just enjoy some respite.

There is irony in that since this was exactly the type of madcap occasion that did bear witness to managerial subtlety. In victory, everyone becomes a hero, temporarily. If all goes as Benitez envisioned beforehand, the victory here will open up a new front in the bid to deliver the title to Anfield. That seems a ludicrous prospect when United's defence is looking impregnable and a spasmodic attack usually supplies a goal or two.

It is the Spaniard's calculation that Sir Alex Ferguson's side will go off course eventually. At the same time Liverpool would then need to capitalise. Benitez's side, though, still has a narrow repertoire. The club has not rid itself of the dependence on Gerrard to cure all ills. Here he was cautioned for a dive as the side became desperate. Perhaps it is hard not to count on such a person but this Liverpool side does need to excel on a wider front. The revitalisation of Torres will be essential to any such process.

Benitez will at least look ahead with more hope than Scolari. For Chelsea, five points behind United, the pursuit of the title has almost certainly come to an end. Terry and, barring a successful appeal, Lampard both face suspensions.

The Results

February 1: Liverpool 2 (Torres 89 & 90+4) bt Chelsea 0. Half-time: 0-0; Newcastle 1 (Ameobi pen-69) drew with Sunderland 1 (Cisse 32). Half-time: 0-1.

January 31: Arsenal 0 drew with West Ham 0; Aston Villa 0 drew with Wigan 0; Bolton 3 (Puygrenier 31, Davies 64 & 87) bt Tottenham 2 (Bent 73 & 75). Half-time: 1-0; Fulham 3 (Johnson 14, Nevland 71 & 80) bt Portsmouth 1 (Nugent 84). Half-time: 1-0; Hull 2 (Mendy 44, Fagan 69) drew with West Brom 2 (Simpson 53, Brunt pen-73). Half-time: 1-0; Manchester United 1 (Ronaldo pen-44) bt Everton 0. Half-time: 1-0; Middlesbrough 0 drew with Blackburn 0; Stoke 1 (Beattie 45+5) bt Manchester City 0. Half-time: 1-0.

January 28: Blackburn 2 (Warnock 66, McCarthy 87) drew with Bolton 2 (Taylor 15, Davies 35). Half-time: 0-2; Chelsea 2 (Kalou 58 & 81) bt Middlesbrough 0. Half-time: 0-0; Everton 1 (Cahill 61) drew with Arsenal 1 (Van Persie 90+2). Half-time: 0-0; Manchester City 2 (Wright-Phillips 17, Bellamy 77) bt Newcastle 1 (Carroll 81). Half-time: 1-0; West Ham 2 (Di Michele 33, Cole 51) bt Hull 0. Half-time: 1-0; Wigan 1 (Mido pen-83) drew with Liverpool 1 (Benayoun 41). Half-time: 0-1.

January 27: Portsmouth 0 lost to Aston Villa 1 (Heskey 21). Half-time: 0-1; Sunderland 1 (Jones 55) bt Fulham 0. Half-time: 0-0; Tottenham 3 (Lennon 8, Defoe 21, Dawson 25) bt Stoke 1 (Beattie 57). Half-time: 3-0; West Brom 0 lost to Manchester United 5 (Berbatov 22, Tevez 44, Vidic 60, Ronaldo 65 & 73). Half-time: 0-2.

January 19: Liverpool 1 (Gerrard 68) drew with Everton 1 (Cahill 87). Half-time: 0-0.

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