Torres lifts Hodgson spirits
Roy Hodgson - with tongue firmly in cheek - claimed his Liverpool career had gone downhill from the day he arrived to sign his contract.
Hodgson was asked about the ups and downs of his turbulent early months at Anfield following Liverpool's 2-0 win against Chelsea on Sunday and replied: "What ups are you talking about?"
He was indulging in some deliberately downbeat irony, and perhaps a swipe at critics who justifiably put Hodgson's management under scrutiny when Liverpool slid into the Premier League relegation zone, after what was easily his most satisfying day in charge.
If the downhill slide was at its most dangerous in the spell between the home loss to Blackpool and after the Merseyside derby defeat at Everton in front of new owner John W. Henry, the beating of champions and Premier League leaders Chelsea was the clearest sign of upward momentum.
Hodgson's relaxed smile and light-hearted verbal jousting suggests he is finally settling to his task, although his revelation that he would enjoy Liverpool being in ninth place illustrated just how far they had fallen and just how much he needed this run of three successive league wins to propel them up the table.
It was only a little over a month ago that Hodgson heard Liverpool's fans, famous for their patience with managers, chant ominously for Anfield icon Kenny Dalglish during that Blackpool defeat, so he is well aware of the game's fickle nature.
Hodgson has yet, it appears, to fully win over Liverpool's followers. No resounding chants are heard for the manager, but if he still has work to do win the affections of The Kop and increase his stock of credibility, a deserved win against Chelsea is a fine starting place.
Liverpool's victory marked the high point of his brief tenure. And while more hard evidence will be required in coming weeks before the upturn in fortunes can be regarded as anything like permanent, there were plenty of positives for Hodgson to savour.
Chelsea's John Terry can only watch on in despair as Torres puts Liverpool ahead at Anfield: PA
Not least of those was the most conclusive indication yet that Fernando Torres is emerging from the darkness of one of the most frustrating spells of his career and back to the form that illuminates Anfield.
If so much of this win was built around the sweat and toil of two of Liverpool's unheralded performers, Dirk Kuyt and Lucas Leiva, the real difference between these two sides was the world-class marksmanship of the rejuvenated Torres.
Torres has been accused of a lack of interest in Liverpool and a lack of effort in their early struggles. My take on this contentious issue, as I said earlier in the season when he was subjected to serious criticism, was that it was actually a case of a chronic lack of service and Torres' mind not trusting his fragile body after a succession of injuries, with his confidence badly damaged as a consequence.
Signs have been detected in recent weeks that mind and body were on the mend. The winner against Blackburn and the instinctive creation of Maxi Rodriguez's late winner at Bolton Wanderers (admittedly a gem in a fairly wretched personal display) hinted at recovery.
And, as on previous occasions, it was Chelsea and John Terry who felt the pain of being hit by the full force of Torres' brilliance as he showed what Liverpool have missed during his barren spell.
As Kenny Dalglish watched from Anfield's directors' box, he will have seen plenty of himself in the two goals Torres scored. The touch of finesse to take control of Kuyt's clever pass and lift a finish over Petr Cech was almost a signature Dalglish moment, as was the curling shot into just about the only space available for the second.
But in their own way they were also pure Torres, instinctive, natural and good enough to punish the best around when all the moving parts are in full working order.
Liverpool's win, however, was not built by Torres alone. Hodgson's decision to adopt a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with Kuyt using his boundless energy to give Torres vital assistance and also add weight in midfield, worked perfectly.
Lucas, so often the target for the crowd's impatience, has rarely had a finer game for Liverpool. Tireless and stifling any space Chelsea hoped to get, Anfield may just start to view him in a different light if he maintains this form.
Raul Meireles took one for the team in an unfamiliar right-flank role to stop the advance of Ashley Cole, while youngster Martin Kelly showed what many of us have suspected, namely that Glen Johnson's absence might be more of a boon than a blow to Liverpool.
Liverpool's fragile confidence surfaced in the needless negativity and sitting back that invited a Chelsea revival in the second half, one they repelled thanks to defensive defiance, the odd moment of good fortune and the outstanding goalkeeping of Pepe Reina.
The trick for Liverpool and Hodgson now is to repeat this desire and passion at Wigan Athletic and Stoke City in the next week. For all the good work of recent weeks, ninth place represents more of a welcome improvement than the announcement of a full recovery.
Liverpool, remarkably, given the pessimism and concerns that swirled around the club just a couple of weeks ago, are now only five points behind fourth-placed Manchester City.
Hodgson was right when he said: "I preach caution." Liverpool should not get too carried away on the basis that they have still not done much to get carried away with. Too much has been mediocre for that to be wiped away by the odd impressive victory.
But if Torres can build on the foundations of form and fitness this game will give him, Hodgson and Liverpool's lives will be so much easier.
For Chelsea, this was perhaps a defeat that has been in the making for weeks. They ground out a drab goalless draw at Aston Villa and were fortunate to beat Blackburn Rovers.
It was predictable that they would miss Frank Lampard and Michael Essien in midfield, absences compounded by the fever that forced Didier Drogba to take a watching brief for the first 45 minutes.
Ramires and Jon Obi Mikel were too wasteful in possession and bowed too often to Steven Gerrard and Lucas, while Yuri Zhirkov operated on the margins of the game with little impact.
Torres made Chelsea's defence look vulnerable, while captain Terry had a forgettable, uncomfortable day that he will not recall with any great fondness. Not only did he appear to struggle with the pace and movement Torres threatened, he was also too busy attempting to take refereeing duties away from Howard Webb.
Webb was far too lenient on Terry's consistent questioning of decisions, indulging his excesses too often. Terry's experience and standing as a former England captain should not give him special dispensation to harangue referees on a regular basis as he did here.
Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti was, as ever, dignified and measured in defeat. He accepted Liverpool were the better team, refused to use absentees as an excuse for a poor performance and was generous in his praise of Torres.
He also put the setback in context, knowing Chelsea will improve when the likes of Lampard and Essien return and pointing out that they still head the Premier League.
Liverpool's sudden rise up the table only underscored the unsettled nature of this season, with no team making a cast-iron case as potential champions and only seven points separating Wigan in 18th place and Newcastle United in fifth.
It is this compressed nature of the table that has also increased Liverpool's sense of well-being and Hodgson's delight at how his team have pulled themselves around - although he will be aware this also means careless defeats could send them tumbling back down.
The good news for Hodgson and Liverpool is that Torres is now edging back towards his best. His poor form, it would appear, was temporary as his class is permanent.