Torres sinks Chelsea
Fernando Torres struck twice in the dying minutes against Chelsea to keep Liverpool's title dream alive in a dramatic finale at Anfield. Rafa Benitez's side looked to be heading for another frustrating draw as Chelsea held out after Frank Lampard's second half dismissal for a lunge on Xabi Alonso.
But Torres struck in the 89th minute when he latched onto a cross by Fabio Aurelio, before cementing the points deep into stoppage time after being teed-up by Yossi Benayoun. They were the Spanish international's first Premier League goals since October and put Liverpool two points behind leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand.
More importantly, the result almost certainly ended Chelsea's title challenge for another season as Luiz Felipe Scolari's side self-destructed. The Blues are five points behind United and have yet to beat any of their 'big four' rivals this season.
While Scolari opted to keep faith with the 11 who started the 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in midweek, Benitez made three changes from the side which stumbled to a 1-1 draw at Wigan. Robbie Keane's omission only fuelled speculation that the out-of-favour Republic of Ireland striker could be on his way out of Anfield before Monday's transfer deadline, with his former club Tottenham Hotspur touted as a possible destination for the frustrated 28-year-old.
With Manchester United having pulled five points clear at the summit the previous day, nothing but a win would do for either side. Yet with the stakes so high, chances were few and far between in a cagey first half which saw Liverpool carve out the better chances without causing any damage. Alonso marked his return to the side by bringing a scrappy opening to life with a missile of a shot from 25-yards which Petr Cech was forced to turn over his bar in the 12th minute.
Chelsea struggled to create a noteworthy chance and they were fortunate to escape in the 18th minute when Cech spilled Javier Mascherano's long range effort, but there was no red shirt following up. Mascherano became the first player to enter referee Mike Riley's notebook and he was quickly followed by Chelsea defender Ashley Cole during a bruising first half.
The temperature at sub-zero Anfield increased dramatically on the half hour mark, as Torres had a goal-bound effort blocked by Brazilian defender Alex inside the Chelsea area following a super cross by Jamie Carragher. A tame header by John Terry was all Chelsea could offer in reply, yet Liverpool lacked a killer instinct. The deadlock was almost broken five minutes before half time when Cech, who was having a poor game, spilled another effort, this time from Albert Riera, and the ball cannoned off Cole just past the corner.
If Chelsea had trouble unlocking the Liverpool defence in the first half, then their task was made twice as hard when they were reduced to ten men in the 60th minute following Lampard's crunching challenge on Alonso. The England midfielder could have few complaints after leaving Alonso in a heap in the centre circle and his team a man short with half an hour to play.
Liverpool spent the remaining time bombarding the Chelsea defence, but to no avail. The busy Alonso went close with a stinging effort that deflected off Alex, who was outstanding in the visitors defence, and crashed against the bar. And 11 minutes from time, Cech made amends for his first half spills with a belting save to thwart substitute Benayoun before Torres had the final say.
The Spanish striker was in the right place at the right time to nod Aurelio's cross past Cech and give Liverpool the three points they craved. Then deep into stoppage time, the Chelsea defence capitulated, Torres cementing the points after being teed-up by Benayoun following a mistake by Cole.