Blues’ night off allows Liverpool to run riot

There was no FA Cup to show off on Liverpool’s ‘lap of honour’.

But three goals in nine first-half minutes at least helped avenge last Saturday’s Wembley defeat as Champions League finalists Chelsea crashed to an emphatic 4-1 defeat at Anfield.

Jordan Henderson, Daniel Agger, Jonjo Shelvey and an own goal by Michael Essien ensured Fernando Torres endured a night to forget on his first return to his former club since leaving for £50m in January 2011.

The result means Chelsea must beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on May 19 if they are to secure a place in the competition next season.

Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo made wholesale changes to his side, but the Italian will be concerned that the FA Cup winners have now won just one of their last five top-flight games.

As for Liverpool, this performance raised more questions than answers. For instance, Kenny Dalglish’s side leave it until the 37th game to produce their best top-flight performance of the season? Not since the 1993-94 has the Merseyside club finished outside the top-seven yet they started their penultimate match anchored in ninth spot — 37 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.

They had lost the last two games at Anfield while their fans had been starved of a home league win since March 13.

Chelsea went into the game having secured more away points (25) than Liverpool had managed at home (24).

But Di Matteo’s decision to rest his key players ahead of the Champions League final back-fired spectacularly.

Chelsea made eight changes to the side that started at Wembley three days earlier — only Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Ramires — who are all suspended for the game in Munich — surviving the cull.

Liverpool, who were without skipper Steven Gerrard, were clearly desperate to put right the wrongs from a disappointing performance at the weekend.

And they did.

Dalglish’s side ran riot as Di Matteo watched his team ruthlessly dismantled by a team that has under-performed too many times this season.

The hosts never looked back after Essien turned the ball into his own net in the 19th minutes while trying to clear from Luis Suarez.

Two minutes earlier Ivanovic rattled the woodwork after a corner from six-yards when the unmarked Chelsea defender should have done better.

Chelsea skipper Terry endured a nightmare, his uncharacteristic slip allowing Henderson to double the lead in the 25th minute, the former Sunderland player producing a delightful finish past keeper Ross Turnbull. And Agger made it 3-0 in the 28th minute when the Dane nodded home after clever work by Andy Carroll.

This was not what Torres planned in front of the fans who used to adore him.

The former Liverpool striker, who had managed just seven goals in his previous 44 Premier League appearances for the west Londoners, was denied by the woodwork before half-time with an angled shot.

Liverpool responded with Stewart Downing, who has yet to score a league goal since joining from Aston Villa last summer, twice hitting the woodwork in quick succession.

Having hit the bar with a dipping 25-yard attempt, the winger then hit a post from the penalty spot after Ivanovic had fouled Carroll in the dying moments of a thrilling first half.

Chelsea did reduce the deficit in the 50th minute. Ramires scored against the Reds at Wembley and the Brazilian was at it again as Florent Malouda’s free-kick hit his midriff before trickling into the net.

But Chelsea’s revival was short-lived thanks to Turnbull.

The keeper’s attempted clearance landed at the feet of Shelvey, who rifled a first-time effort from 30 yards into the net in front of the Kop to make it 4-1 in the 61st minute.

There was time for Liverpool to bring on 17-year-old Raheem Sterling, while Maxi Rodriguez appeared to wave goodbye to fans when he was substituted in the closing stages.

LIVERPOOL: Reina 7, Johnson 7, Carragher 7, Skrtel 7, Agger 7, Downing 7 (Sterling 83, 5), Henderson 8, Shelvey 7, Maxi 7 (Kuyt, 83, 5), Suarez 8, Carroll 7.

CHELSEA: Turnbull 4, Ferreira 5, Ivanovic 5, Terry 4, Bertrand 4, Essien 6, Romeu 6, Ramires 6, Sturridge 5 (Lukaku 68, 5), Malouda 5, Torres 5.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 6.

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