Chelsea without Drogba and Essien today, although not toothless by any means, starting the Donkey (Anelka) and two wise men, Malouda and Kalou, up top. Howard Webb's in charge of today's festivities, so there'll be no nonsense brooked in what can reasonably be expected to be a feisty encounter between two squads that don't much like each other. Liverpool start fairly brightly, knocking the ball around the pitch with unusual purpose and controlling the early part of the game. Eleven minutes in and it's Fernando Torres -- remember him? -- on the end of a perfectly hit cross from Dirk Kuyt, John Terry caught out in central defense, and the ball eased deliciously into the back of the net for a shock 1-nil Liverpool lead.
It's 2008 all over again, and Chelsea are facing the ghost of Liverpool past, with Fernando Torres showing the kind of touch and form he's found hard to muster over the past two seasons. Perhaps the Scousers are attempting to make up for their embarassing outing against the Blues at Anfield last May; whatever the reason, it appears as if the Champions will have their work cut out for them today. Liverpool dominate much of the game's opening half, denying Chelsea any significant time on the ball, and reducing the Londoners' attacks to sporadic long passes and opportunistic ball hawking. Liverpool play with a sense of passion and drive unseen for much of the season. By the 40 minute mark, though, Chelsea have begun to impose themselves on the game at last, now holding the ball for long stretches of time here, now attacking there, and Liverpool begin to looked tired from the lack of creativity that has plagued them all season. Just before haltime, though, it's Torres with a second piece of individual brilliance, offering another outrageously curling finish on the receiving end of a Raul Meireles' pass into the box for a 2-nil lead at the break. This is vintage Torres, and Chelsea have to feel unfortunate to be witnessing the Spaniard's Lasarus-like revival first hand. Fernando Torres is once again looking more like Fernando Torres and less like Fernando Llamas, although he does indeed look mahvelous today.
The Blues respond in the second half by swapping out one Ivorian for another, with Drogba replacing fellow countryman Kalou. Chelsea's attack does turn up the heat on the Scousers near the 60 minute mark, pinning them back in their own end under a constant barrage of Blue-waved attacking. In their closest threat of the game to date, Reina somehow manages to deny a point-blank Malouda on a cross from Drogba that would have surely sunk my fantasy week had it managed to find a way in. Fortunately for me, as well as the Reds, the ball is struck directly at the Spaniard who has no choice but to block it. Bosingwa replaces Ivanovic near the 70 minute mark as Chelsea scramble for a toehold back into the game before it's too late. But it's the Reds that almost capitalize next, with only a world class Petr Cech save denying a Dirk Kuyt effort that would surely have meant game, set and match had it gone in. Although Chelsea continue to keep the ball in Liverpool's end for long stretches of the second half, the Blues' last chance ends with a Anelka ball being bounced off the cross bar by Pepe Reina, and the Champions are beaten on the day by a two goal margin.
To be honest, it's a Chelsea effort you could have seen coming these last few weeks, with their narrow escape at Blackpool last week following an uncomfortably close win versus Wolves the week before. Is this a one-off flutter, or are the Champs exposed as being not quite so dominant as the London-based media have made them out to be?
Time will tell, but the lead is down to a skinny two point margin heading into an already blistering derby week. Manchester United is within shouting distance at last, and I'm a shouting farlieonfootie for November 8.