Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool: Old boy Johnson has no room for sentiment
While all eyes were on Fernando Torres to make Liverpool regret selling him to Chelsea, even if it was for £50m (Dh290m), few would have expected another old boy to steal the show.
Glen Johnson had four frustrating seasons at Chelsea, but enjoyed his return to Stamford Bridge with a superb solo goal sealing victory for the Reds.
A first strike since February – ironically at another former club West Ham – again exposed the defensive frailties of Chelsea and gave Liverpool three successive league wins against the Blues for the first time since the 1972-73 season.
Back then, Liverpool were kings and current boss Kenny Dalglish has also ruled in meetings against Sunday’s hosts.
In his previous 11 games as manager, he had won eight and drawn three. It was a record to respect and the Scot sensed another notable success was on the cards after Maxi Rodriguez put them ahead.
John Obi Mikel was robbed by Charlie Adam and Craig Bellamy took up the attack and cleverly picked out Maxi for a calm finish past Pepe Reina. The Chelsea keeper wore a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ style mask, but his side’s defending was tragic.
It was Maxi’s first league start this season and Bellamy’s second, but the pair proved their surprise inclusions were well deserved.
Temperamental he may be, but Bellamy remains so talented. Anyone who watched ‘Blue Moon Rising’, the tale of Manchester City’s 2009-10 campaign will have witnessed the Welshman’s passionate yet expletive-filled challenge to his team-mates to deliver before the crucial game against Spurs that would decide their Champions League fate. Dalglish wanted that fire at Anfield because he knew they needed it.
Chelsea needed that sort of drive and determination and Didier Drogba seemed the only one to provide it early on.
He was inches away with the opener himself as he sent a free-kick past the post and then led his side’s second-half charge.
Frank Lampard and Juan Mata combined to tee him up on the edge of the box and Drogba muscled his way past Johnson, saw a glimpse of goal but curled his effort wide.
It was merely calm before the storm as Chelsea poured forward with the conviction and class that had been previously missing from their play.
Their efforts were rewarded by Daniel Sturridge’s 55th minute leveller, a tap-in at the far post after a forceful run and cross from Florent Malouda.
The goal vindicated his manager’s faith. Mikel’s mistake had seen him replaced at half-time by Sturridge and both sections of supporters might have been surprised, given that Torres was an option from the bench too.
But Sturridge delivered and a minute later, only the brilliance of Reina kept them at bay as he pushed away Branislav Ivanovic’s flick header from a Drogba free-kick.
Danger stemmed mostly from the left side where Ashley Cole, Mata and Malouda threatened and the Frenchman had two opportunities which could have given his side the advantage.
He sent an overhead kick wide after a neat build-up before finding space at the back post, but a mis-hit cross eluded Lampard and Mata.
Torres made a belated appearance six minutes from time, yet he might as well have not bothered as Liverpool’s late rally gave them the three points that took them level with Chelsea in the table.
Dirk Kuyt drove just wide after being set up by Stewart Downing in a promising position, but Johnson showed better composure after a skilful run from the right, cutting inside Cole before firing into the corner.