Dalglish revival outshines Torres
Fernando Torres declared football's age of romance was dead as he explained the cold logic behind his move £50m move from Liverpool to Chelsea. If it is, the message has yet to reach Kenny Dalglish.
Given Torres' icy assessment of exactly why he insisted on leaving Anfield, a quest for silverware as opposed to Roman Abramovich's gold, it will have come as no surprise to him that his debut ended in the ignominy of an early departure and defeat against his old club.
Torres found no love off the pitch at Stamford Bridge as he endured the taunts and saw the banners of the same Liverpool supporters who idolised him a fortnight ago. On it the misery of his 65th minute substitution was compounded by Raul Meireles' winner.
Torres was substituted in the 65th minute against former club Liverpool. Photo: AP
Liverpool's revival under manager Dalglish, back in the job he loves after a 20-year absence, provides the counter argument to the emotion-free analysis of Torres as the Scot put them in the top six for the first time this season.
Dalglish gets the hearts of a club that was on its knees beating faster with every game.
When he swept back into Anfield on a wave of emotion and hope from Liverpool's supporters after Roy Hodgson's sacking, Dalglish admitted romance was nice but it would only go so far before reality kicked in.
After a tentative start Dalglish is combining romance and reality with a fourth straight win and fourth successive clean sheet that resulted in the Scot navigating his way around questions about the possibility of Champions League qualification.
Not even the romantics would portray this game as a classic or glowing advert for the Premier League. Too many misplaced passes, too many mistakes and too many passages of mediocre play - but Liverpool were unquestionably superior and will not dwell too long on the technicalities or the demands of the purists.
The manner of Liverpool's victory, greeted with the widest smile in football as Dalglish clasped right-hand men Sammy Lee and Steve Clarke at the final whistle, was more hard evidence of a remarkable rejuvenation in just a few weeks.
Torres is no longer part of that process. The sub-plots of this day made it almost inevitable that the outcome would not be neutral - Torres would either be a hero or receive a swift slap in the face for having the audacity to state in such stark terms that the grass is greener away from Anfield.
It turned out to be the latter. He was greeted uproariously by Chelsea's fans but the welcome, and the term is used in its loosest form, from Liverpool supporters was hostile.
"He Who Betrays Will Always Walk Alone" read a banner draped from the stand, one of many including an unflattering comparison between Torres and a Liverpool actress he is unlikely to have ever heard of.
Liverpool's players showed good grace and affection to him in the pre-match formalities with bear hugs for their former team-mate but once the action got under way it swiftly turned into an occasion Torres will be glad is now in the past.
Dalglish celebrates Liverpool's winner with coach Sammy Lee Photo: Reuters
Torres' day can be summed up quickly. A shot over the bar from just about the best service he has ever had from one-time colleague Maxi Rodriguez in the opening moments. A belt in the mouth from Daniel Agger. A threat on goal snuffed out by a perfectly-timed block from the splendid Jamie Carragher, back after three months out with a dislocated shoulder.
After that it was game over and plenty for Carlo Ancelotti to ponder as he works out how best to utilise his new British record signing in an attack that already contains Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
Ancelotti used all three against Liverpool. It did not work as Chelsea looked lop-sided, lacked width and too often saw too many strikers chasing too many of the same passes. Anelka is talented but ill-suited to a deep-lying role.
Chelsea's coach said: "Fernando did a good job. He tried to do things and his movement was good. We have to try in the training sessions to get him to combine well with the other strikers."
This may take many hours of work on the training ground with no guarantee of success but even £50m assets take time to settle in. The start may have been a disappointment but the future is still full of exciting possibilities once Torres adjusts to life away from Anfield.
If Ancelotti can get the formula right Torres can be a magnificent signing for Chelsea and the Spaniard's mind may actually be clearer for getting the meeting with Liverpool out of the way.
For Liverpool it seems it is only onwards and upwards under Dalglish. Every word and deed from the man who can do no wrong in the eyes of their fans illustrates the relish and sheer enjoyment he is getting from being back in charge.
Dalglish is in control until the end of the season but it is hard to see - barring a catastrophe - how John W Henry and the Fenway Sports Group can do anything other than give him the job permanently, especially after entrusting him with more than £50m in the transfer market.
Indeed, there is almost a case for making the announcement now given the upturn in results, performances and club morale since Dalglish started this winning sequence.
He brushed off such talk, saying: "I'm only doing what I said I would do, which is to come in and help. I will never stand in the way of progress at this club." Dalglish then revealed there have been no talks with the owners on the possibility of permanency and none are planned, but it seems little more than a formality.
The win was even more impressive as it was achieved without Liverpool's two big January signings. Andy Carroll, who cost £35m, is injured while Dalglish's side was in such control that £23m signing Luiz Suarez's activities were limited to some brisk warm-ups.
Liverpool's players, who looked lost and dispirited under Hodgson, have purpose and direction again. Dalglish has reconnected the team to Liverpool's supporters and this sense of unity has provided the foundations for the revival.
It has not simply been about Dalglish smiling and saying the right things. None of this would have mattered without the man-management and football wisdom he has brought back to Liverpool.
Aided by his shrewd fellow Scot Clarke, Dalglish has devised a system that suits Liverpool and tactically he was spot on again at Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool's use of three central defenders crowded out Torres and his fellow strikers while Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson ensured Chelsea had little joy on the flanks. In midfield so many of the honours went to the unheralded Lucas Leiva for his reliability in possession and determination to pressurise Chelsea.
Torres barely had time and space to make an impact and on the few occasions he did he was swiftly shrouded in a red blanket of defence, invariably led by Carragher.
Chelsea never applied serious pressure to Liverpool and were fortunate to escape Maxi's shocking first half miss, although they were denied a clear penalty in injury time when Johnson barged Branislav Ivanovic to the ground.
It made for a day of frustration for Torres and sheer elation for Liverpool's fans, who shouted "You Should Have Stayed At A Big Club" when he sat stone-faced behind Ancelotti in the moments after Meireles' winner.