Chelsea did not exactly arrive as 100-1 outsiders like Saturday's Grand National winner but there was little to suggest something quite as extraordinary as this was going to happen at Anfield last night.This, after all, was the same Liverpool side who put four past Real Madrid and Manchester United and five past Aston Villa. The same Liverpool side who had already beaten Chelsea home and away in the league and looked more than a decent bet to reach a third Champions League final under Rafa Benitez.
And up he rises: Branislav Ivanovic draws Chelsea level with his header
A decent bet to win the Barclays Premier League title, too. But this was also the same Chelsea side driven by a collective desire to ease the pain of last year's heartache in Moscow; a Chelsea side sick to the stomach of going so close to winning this competition but never quite doing enough. It is not going to be any easier this year, as Barcelona will probably stand between them and the final in Rome. But a place in the last four would certainly seem to be Chelsea's for the taking when they return to Stamford Bridge for next week's second leg with so great an advantage. John Terry will be missing after picking up another yellow card last night but that is unlikely to have much of an impact, given that his colleagues managed to leave here with three away goals.
High times: Chelsea mob Ivanovic
Even if their victory owed much to the desperate nature of Liverpool's defending, this amounted to an incredible performance from Chelsea. Indeed, it was more than an echo of what Liverpool have been doing to their opponents of late, a deadly combination of pace, power and skill proving too much for the Merseysiders on this occasion. Under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, Chelsea did a brilliant job, responding to a wonderful sixth-minute goal from Fernando Torres with the kind of football they have too often struggled to produce in Europe this season. This, it should be noted, was their first away victory in eight Champions League games. They were terrific in every area of the field. Terry and Alex coped admirably after Ricardo Carvalho was left nursing his sore ankle on the bench; Michael Essien tracked Steven Gerrard tirelessly and went a long way to removing the threat posed by the Liverpool captain; Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack dominated midfield in the absence of Liverpool's Javier Mascherano and from Didier Drogba came not just a goal but his best performance in a Chelsea shirt in more than a year.Even their notoriously inconsistent wingers impressed last night. For Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou this was also a night to remember. But it was from Branislav Ivanovic that the real surprise came. He was Anfield's Mon Mome. Ignored by Avram Grant after arriving at Chelsea 16 months ago and only used occasionally by Luiz Felipe Scolari, even Hiddink handed the Serb defender only his first league appearance in three months at Newcastle last weekend.He settled into this contest at right back with impressive ease, though, scoring the first goal of his Chelsea career in the 39th minute to equalise before then pouncing again midway through the second half.
What a start: Torres wheels away after scoring his opener at Anfield
Almost as impressive was the fact his Wikipedia page updated to record his first goal within two minutes of his header beating Pepe Reina. It was an utterly absorbing contest from the start, with Liverpool accelerating out of the blocks in a manner that suggested they would be inflicting the majority of the damage. So much so that there was a sense of inevitability about Torres's goal. Hiddink would have cursed his players' defending as their failure to close down Torres allowed the Spaniard to meet a neat ball from Alvaro Arbeloa with a wonderful first-time finish. The deployment of Kalou and Malouda on the flanks nevertheless represented a bold move by Hiddink and his ambition was almost rewarded within seconds of the restart. Drogba had only Reina to beat, but the goalkeeper stood tall and blocked the shot. Already this was an enthralling game, a high-velocity contest every bit as mesmerising as the best of their previous knock-out encounters and every bit as tense.
Further opportunities would follow for both teams. But when Malouda swung in a corner in the 39th minute, nobody picked up Ivanovic's mazy manoeuvres and suddenly he was rising unopposed to meet the ball with an unstoppable header.
Duel: Ashley Cole tracks Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt
Xabi Alonso was probably most guilty of losing him, but in this modern era of zonal marking others were also at fault. It was much the same for the goal he added in the 62nd minute another corner, this time from Lampard, and another super header that he again guided past Reina unopposed. Their third goal came five minutes later, Drogba accelerating between Jamie Carragher and Fabio Aurelio to meet a fine Malouda cross with the kind of finish that had eluded him prior to that. In fairness to Drogba, one of his efforts was cleared off the line by Carragher. If John Arne Riise's own goal last year was a crushing blow, this was far worse yet another setback after having watched Manchester United somehow recover to beat Aston Villa on Sunday. Liverpool will not come back from this in Europe and they may struggle to recover when it comes to the Premier League title race. A title race, let us not forget, that still includes a Chelsea side now looking like the form team of the top three. LIVERPOOL (4-5-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio (Dossena 75min); Kuyt, Lucas (Babel 79), Alonso, Riera (Benayoun 67), Gerrard; Torres. Booked: Aurelio. Scorer: Torres 6. CHELSEA (4-5-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, A Cole; Kalou, Ballack, Essien, Lampard, Malouda; Drogba (Anelka 79). Booked: Kalou, Terry. Scorers: Ivanovic 38, 62. Drogba 67 Man of the match: Branislav Ivanovic. Attendance: 42,543.Referee: Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark)
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