Reds turn up the heat on Villas-Boas
He may not have the suppleness of body to mimic Andre Villas-Boas' touchline crouching, but what Kenny Dalglish lacks in elasticity, he makes up for in tactical ingenuity. And with a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals up for grabs, it was the wily Scot who outfoxed his young counterpart for the second time in nine days, the Liverpool boss able to celebrate a third win at Stamford Bridge in 2011.
As the visitors led 2-0 and cantered towards victory, the massive contingent of red dominating the Shed End shouted Dalglish's name, King Kenny offering the delighted supporters a glance and a wave of appreciation. One could certainly forgive Villas-Boas for not taking a similar look up into the stands, where emperor Roman may well have been proffering a thumbs down in his direction. It certainly appeared at times that the Chelsea defence were throwing their manager to the lions, and not for the first time this season.
The press box was united in wishing it didn't have to once again discuss the possibility of a hugely talented young manager facing a premature end to a tenure that just a matter of weeks ago he viewed as the beginning of a potential dynasty in west London. But the cold hard fact remains that Abramovich has sacked managers for much less. Villas-Boas' win percentage currently stands at 52%, the worst of any Chelsea manager since Ruud Gullit, and even the Dutchman took the Blues beyond the League Cup quarter-finals in his debut season.
After tasting his sixth defeat as Blues boss, courtesy of second-half goals from Maxi Rodriguez and Martin Kelly, Villas-Boas was unrepentant at having fielded a young side including the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Josh McEachran and Romelu Lukaku - insisting all had deserved to play a part because of their performances in previous rounds.
"We set up in this competition to play young players, Villa Boas said. "I'm pretty pleased with what we saw ... I'm not worried about the Liverpool teamsheet being more experienced. We've come out to win it but we wouldn't change the [Carling Cup] philosophy. It's a pity for us because we had a good chance to progress at home."
A stadium that was once a impregnable fortress - home to 86 consecutive league games without defeat - has become somewhat of a stomping ground for Liverpool. The Reds supporters, too, dominated proceedings with their vocal supporters, a fact that did not appear to be lost on Villas-Boas.
"I think away from home we have been more solid statistically and as a team, at the moment at home we just haven't been good enough," he admitted. "I think we need to get our fans behind us, we need to get the emotions right. You can feel Stamford Bridge has become anxious but we need their support to build the right atmosphere to get us through this period."
On the performance of referee Phil Dowd, who booked David Luiz for diving when a penalty could just have easily been given, awarded Liverpool a [justified] spot-kick and mistakenly showed Ryan Bertrand a yellow card when it was in fact Romelu Lukaku who had committed the foul, Villas-Boas was particularly forthright. "It was Phil's decision and it changed the outcome of the result," he lamented. "He is the Premier League referee who has given the most penalties. It is his decision making and we just have to take it. It happened at Old Trafford against us and it happened to us again today."
While Chelsea commiserated, Liverpool celebrated a place in the last four of the Carling Cup, a trophy that eluded Dalglish during his first reign at Anfield. It is a trophy that has been the springboard to greater things for the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham in recent years, but Dalglish did not wish to discuss a potential triumph, instead preferring to aim a barb squarely at the Football League for their decision to make his side play just 48 hours after Sunday's Premier League draw with Manchester City.
The Scot described the competition as "a cup that's been cheapened by the actions of people that run it", before sarcastically adding that a berth in a two-legged semi-final means "at least we'll have the chance to play at home" - in reference to Liverpool's four successive away ties so far this season.
Dalglish did also focus some attention on matters on the pitch, though, showering his players with praise amid further mentions of their lack of rest after Sunday. He said: "We were delighted with the way we played, most of the lads have played in earlier rounds of the cup and it was only fair that they played again. Jordan [Henderson] and Lucas played 24 hours ago. They were brilliant."
One player in particular who impressed both Dalglish and your scribe was Andy Carroll, - "the boy's emphatic" was the assessment of the Liverpool boss after the game. In the battle of the overpriced and underperforming strikers it was certainly the Englishman who trumped an anonymous Fernando Torres. Carroll has often appeared lacklustre, verging on lazy at times this season, but put in an decent shift up front on his own, more notably in the first 45. However, true to form, he was unable to add to his goal tally, Ross Turnbull saving his first-half spot-kick.
Even with Carroll's goalscoring touch still failing to return, Liverpool were able to claim victory. Just as they had done nine days ago, the Merseysiders capitalised on mistakes by Chelsea's back-line and just as nine days ago, it was Craig Bellamy who stepped forward to a lay on goal for Maxi. On this occasion, the Welshman sped into space left open by the otherwise encouraging Ryan Bertrand, before finding his Argentine team-mate alone in the box to tap in. The Reds' second was an equally poor defensive showing from the hosts, Martin Kelly rising unmarked to head home Craig Bellamy's left-wing free-kick.
Barmy Brazilian David Luiz continues to be a cause for concern at the back and at one point in the second half he cheekily sidestepped two onrushing red shirts, drawing gasps - of apprehension from those in Blue and anticipation from those in Red. When he takes possession, there seems to be a wave of worry around Stamford Bridge and after one lapse of concentration, a Chelsea fan offered Villas-Boas a piece of advice - "You start him, f*****g talk to him." The man next to him hardly inspired confidence either, Alex was some way off the pace.
For Villas-Boas, the Chelsea hotseat must be feeling more like an inferno at present and though he should at least be given the opportunity to lead his side into next week's crunch Champions League clash with Valencia - a match he described as "life or death" - the spectre of Guus Hiddink looms large; a firefighter waiting in the wings to tackle what is becoming an increasingly inglorious blaze at the Bridge.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Craig Bellamy. On Sunday, the prospect of playing just hours after the death of his friend proved too much for Bellamy. But two days later, after wiping away the tears following an emotional two minutes' applause at the start of the match, the Liverpool forward's presence was certainly felt - a pair of assists at a difficult time was an admirable contribution from the Welshman.
CHELSEA VERDICT: Still lacking direction, though were a number of players who put in decent displays, including Bertrand (going forward) and Oriol Romeu (when in possession of the ball), while Romelu Lukaku started brightly and imposed himself physically but faded in the second-half. You knew the Blues' luck wasn't in when, at 2-0 down, Florent Malouda hit the crossbar and Sebastian Coates subsequently cleared Luiz's effort off the line; next two games, away to Newcastle in the Premier League and at home to Valencia in the Champions League could define both the season and Villas-Boas' legacy.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Set up similarly to their last victorious visit to Stamford Bridge, primed and ready to counter attack. In the first-half Carroll was arguably the brightest he has been in the current campaign, while the speed of Bellamy and Maxi was problematic throughout for Chelsea's defence. A semi-final beckons and a chance to move one step closer to a first League Cup success since 2003.
SPEED REMEMBERED:The minute of applause in memory of Gary Speed prior to the game was a poignant moment, as both Liverpool and Chelsea fans united to sing "There's only one Gary Speed", a chant that was later repeated by the Reds fans in the second half.