Liverpool find new greatest player ever

STEVIE who?

I might have missed it, but I half-expected to hear that Jamie Carragher had issued a heartfelt apology for claiming that Steven Gerrard is the greatest player Liverpool ever had.

Yesterday was all about Fernando Torres, the man who’d been playing understudy to himself finally rediscovering the kind of starring role which had made one of the most potent strikers in world football.

Otherwise, this thoroughly deserved victory against Chelsea was a case of a mighty collective effort on the part of a side which has also rediscovered self-belief if not the outstanding quality throughout the team that will be required to turn a modest revival into something more enduring.

Down following that first Torres goal and all but out after the second, Chelsea bossed the ball for most of the second half but, lacking the powerhouse drive of Michael Essien and with Didier Drogba a largely ineffectual presence when he came on after the break, they only rarely threatened a comeback.

And on the couple of occasions that they did, Pepe Reina was there to ensure the home sheet was kept clean.

Few will begrudge Roy Hodgson his best day yet as Liverpool manager but I wouldn’t be convinced on the basis of what we saw at Anfield that this will become the norm.

First, let’s wait and see how they get on at Wigan on Wednesday, shall we?

Paradoxically, that could be the real test, not the visit of the league leaders and defending champions.

The thing is that Liverpool at home to Chelsea tends to be exceptional, out of the ordinary, something more like a cup clash than a league game.

Straight away, you could tell from the noise in the stadium in the minutes leading up to kick-off yesterday that the Anfield faithful were up for this one.

And it has been ever thus since the Russian Revolution at Stamford Bridge helped turn England’s traditional top-flight pecking order on its head.

I was fortunate to be in the stadium for the game in 2005 when that Luis Garcia ‘phantom goal’ was enough to put Liverpool through to the Champions’ League final at the expense of the Londoners, and just the memory of the electric atmosphere that night is still enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

Such was the raw desire of the Scousers to put the nouveau riche southerners in their place, that even Anfield watchers much more seasoned than I were left open-mouthed by the sheer volume and passion of the Kop from first kick to last.

Of course, even better was to come for the Red Army that year, as Liverpool went on to beat an AC Milan side managed by Carlo Ancelotti in sensational circumstances in the final in Istanbul, coming back from 3-0 down to win the Champions’ League on penalties.

That was the game which, more than any other, secured Rafa Benitez’s hero status on Merseyside.

But as much as it is understandably regarded one of the most celebrated nights in Liverpool’s history, the benefit of hindsight suggests its long-term impact was hardly an unmitigated boon for the club, as the credit it bought for the Spanish manager outlasted his worth to the club.

That Liverpool could have begun yesterday’s game at staggering odds of 11/4 to win a home match, tells you everything you need to know about the precipitous decline at Anfield, notwithstanding the fact that a struggling side had shown signs of a rebirth by winning its previous three games. But precisely because this was Chelsea – the champions, the league leaders, the ones to beat – the bookies should have known better.

Having long-since had to come to terms with the reality that, at least as far as the Premier League is concerned, they will never be regarded as favourites in a big four battle, Liverpool have learned to revel in the role of spiky upsetters.

And with barely 11 minutes on the clock at Anfield yesterday, they were at it again, Fernando Torres showing the pace and predatory instinct which injury has too often blunted, to score after a wonderful ball from the impressive Dirk Kuyt.

Right on the stroke of half-time Torres was twisting the knife, this time with a stunning individual effort which left Petr Cech rooted to the spot. But for all that joy on Merseyside yesterday – tempered only by the realisation they’d also be cheering the outcome in Manchester – not much else in the game suggested that Liverpool remain anything more than a fairly ordinary side blessed with an extraordinary striker.

Oh, and not forgetting the greatest player who ever played for the club, of course, though it was easy enough to do that yesterday.

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