Two headers by Branislav Ivanović and a clinical finish by Didier Drogba brought Chelsea to the verge of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals as they ended their barren run of European visits to Liverpool.
Chelsea had only a John Arne Riise own goal to show for the previous five recent UEFA Champions League trips to Anfield but Serbian defender Ivanović, who had never previously scored for Chelsea, found the net from two corners either side of the break, while Drogba neatly tucked the third in from four metres out. Liverpool now have an enormous job on their hands at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday if they are to stay in the competition, despite forging an early lead through Fernando Torres.
Dirk Kuyt set the move rolling for that sixth-minute goal with a superb back-heel out to the right wing, where Álvaro Arbeloa crossed for Torres to calmly side-foot the ball into the corner of the net from close to the penalty spot. Moments later, Drogba had a glorious chance to equalise when he found himself through on Pepe Reina after being released by Salomon Kalou at the Kop end, but the Spanish goalkeeper – making his 100th appearance in UEFA club competition – blocked the Ivorian striker’s shot, which was straight at his body.
Chelsea responded well and had Liverpool under pressure after earning two free-kicks in promising positions, both blocked by the wall. Florent Malouda then threatened Reina’s goal after being found by Drogba, but the Frenchman dragged his left-foot shot wide. Play ebbed and flowed with no sign of the tension or nerves of previous meetings between these two sides on Merseyside as Torres shook off the close attention of Frank Lampard before curling an effort over the top.
Michael Ballack then played Drogba into space with a perfect pass, but the striker’s shot cleared the crossbar comfortably. Chelsea eventually got the equaliser that their pressure deserved in the 39th minute. Full-back Ivanović, in for the injured José Bosingwa, sprinted into the box to meet Malouda’s corner with a firm header past Reina.
Chelsea upped the tempo further still after the restart and could have gone in front after 51 minutes when Drogba, after a swift interchange with Lampard, beat Reina with his low shot but Jamie Carragher produced fantastic clearance from right on the goal line. John Terry was then booked for a dangerous challenge on Reina, a caution which means the Chelsea captain will miss the second leg.
All that was forgotten in the 62nd minute, however, when Ivanović again found the target with another headed goal from a corner, Lampard the provider this time. As if things could not get any worse for Liverpool, they did just that five minutes later when Drogba finally got his reward by neatly finishing off an inviting cross from the left by Malouda. Liverpool simply had no reply and fell to a UEFA Champions League home defeat only equalled when FC Barcelona won here 3-1 in November 2001. While the Kop was muted, Chelsea fans are already dreaming of a fifth semi-final in six seasons