Torres sustains final four hopes
Striker Fernando Torres marked his first start since 13 January by scoring the winner in an ill-tempered 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Anfield. The Spain international hit his 13th goal in 17 Barclays Premier League appearances just before half-time, having missed five weeks at the start of the year after a knee operation.
Liverpool had gone ahead midway through the half through Steven Gerrard only for Jamie Carragher's handball to allow Keith Andrews to equalise from the penalty spot five minutes before the interval. With fellow top-four challengers Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City both winning this weekend, it was imperative Rafael Benitez's side maintain the pressure, and they ground out a win against combative opponents.
Before the match Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce, who has never had a great relationship with Benitez, had said the Spaniard's side played like his former club Bolton Wanderers. However, on this evidence - five Rovers players were booked and they could easily have had Steven Nzonzi and Pascal Chimbonda sent off - it was Rovers who lived up to Allardyce's assertion.
But it was the goalscoring return of Torres that will have put a smile on Benitez's face as Liverpool scored for the 26th successive league game at Anfield and the 33rd in all competitions. Surprisingly, Torres played no part in the opening goal, which came from a swift and incisive move started by Lucas on the halfway line.
Gerrard chips Reds in front
The Brazilian picked out Gerrard who, after exchanging passes with Dirk Kuyt and offloading to Yossi Benayoun, continued his run into the penalty area to collect the return ball, go past Chris Samba and clip home a left-footed shot. That was after Samba, Martin Olsson and Morten Gamst Pedersen had all had half-chances to put Blackburn ahead.
Liverpool, though, were indebted to Jose Reina in the 17th minute as the goalkeeper made a good double save from Pedersen, particularly the first shot which deflected off Jamie Carragher. On the half-hour Kuyt should have made it 2-0 from Gerrard's corner, but appeared to be surprised by the pace of the ball and headed wide from three yards.
In the 38th minute Liverpool were forced into a change when Fabio Aurelio limped off with what looked to be a thigh injury and was replaced by Emiliano Insua.
Two minutes later Rovers were gifted an equaliser when Benayoun's weak clearance was played straight back into the penalty area and, despite three Liverpool players surrounding Kalinic, Carragher catastrophically went to ground where the ball hit his hand. Andrews fired home from the spot to put his side firmly back in the game. However, Liverpool went ahead again a minute before the break when Samba could only poke the ball off Torres into the path of Rodriguez, who crossed into the six-yard area for the Spaniard to smash home.
Early in the second half Olsson was booked for handball in the centre-circle before Nzonzi was lucky to escape with a caution, having flattened Lucas with an aggressive push to his face. Pascal Chimbonda's first act, having come on for Olsson, was to bring down Rodriguez as he threatened to cut into the penalty area.
Daniel Agger headed Gerrard's whipped-in free-kick over at the far post. Chimbonda's second contribution was to carelessly give the ball away to Kuyt, which eventually resulted in Robinson having to tip Rodriguez's shot around the post.
Kalinic was next to go into referee Alan Wiley's book for hacking down Mascherano from behind and, after several close calls, former Liverpool forward El-Hadji Diouf was eventually booked for bringing down Mascherano.
Ryan Babel replaced Benayoun for the final ten minutes, but with only a slender lead the pressure began to mount on the hosts. Torres departed to a standing ovation with his work done, but all too aware that he will have to continue to produce on a regular basis if his club are to secure UEFA Champions League football next season.