MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 2 LIVERPOOL 0
The goals came in the second half of a match that saw both sides have good spells, and the story of Chelsea's win owed as much to some excellent individual defending as anything the players did going forward.
John Terry was simply immense and behind him, Hilario can count himself among the afternoon's heroes.
The match was more akin to the traditional tight affairs of recent times between these sides than the Champions League extravaganzas of last season.
Liverpool did not throw their full-backs forward as much as in other games this season and consequently were more solid than in Italy midweek, especially with Javier Mascherano back in their ranks.
For Chelsea, Jose Bosingwa was absent injured so Branislav Ivanovic continued at right-back. Michael Ballack was in after two games out while supporting Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in attack was Deco at the front of the diamond. Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda were dropped to the bench.
Deco had the chance to put Drogba through on goal as early as the third minute after Liverpool had carelessly gifted possession, but the pass was over hit.
Terry had to clear the Chelsea box soon after as the visitors outmanoeuvred Ivanovic down our right. Then Hilario's first test ended with a confident take under his crossbar after Johnson crossed.
On 12 minutes, Terry was again a model of composure in playing a dangerous ball out but was caught painfully and late by Torres. Why the Spaniard was not booked only referee Martin Atkinson knows.
It had been a prosaic start to the game. The two sides were showing each other plenty of respect; not surprising given the heavyweight contests between them over recent years.
But as the first quarter-of-an-hour elapsed, Chelsea began to involve Drogba and began to put pressure on the Liverpool defence.
It was not one-way traffic. Ivanovic defended very well to keep out Torres, but when Drogba got between two Liverpool defenders, he managed to get his head to an Anelka cross. A looping header was probably flying wide anyway as Reina rose and caught it.
Anelka's header soon after was on-target as he was left alone by Liverpool when Essien crossed but although the ball was directed down, the Liverpool keeper dived and saved.
Ivanovic, who had done well after his uncomfortable start, fouled Torres on 29 minutes and in so doing, gave Gerrard his first chance to have a direct go at Hilario's goal. The free-kick was struck well over.
Chelsea's best effort of the half came on 33 minutes when Drogba won a free-kick out of Carragher near the corner flag and Lampard directed it towards a good spot for Ballack. The German, finding space between two zonal markers, headed over to his own immense annoyance.
One of the best moves of the half saw Ivanovic infield and combining with Anelka to set up Lampard, the shot deflected wide. From the corner, the ball made its way to Essien who drove straight at Reina.
Two minutes before the break Essien became the game's first booking for catching Lucas late.
With the free-kick 30 yards out, Riera didn't catch it that well and there looked no initial danger but Hilario reacted late, maybe expecting a colleague a clear. Thankfully, Cech's stand-in still tipped the ball round the post.
Before the break, Liverpool fans moaned that Drogba had fouled Skrtel at their corner but the ref was not interested. They had found cause to do a lot of moaning in the goalless first half.
The first shot of the second half was Gerrard's. Again Hilario, who had just made a good catch, could stand and watch it fly over his head.
The match was turning into a contest down Chelsea's left flank as the Blues probed for the opener. It took a very good Glen Johnson tackle to dispossess and floor Drogba on one such move but the right-back was helpless just before the hour as Chelsea took the lead.
Lampard won the ball deep in his half and Essien advanced. It was Deco who sent Drogba away on the left and when the cross was struck in by the Ivorian, it was a peach, picking out strike partner Anelka to it high over Reina from six yards out.
Liverpool mounted a response, and Terry and Ashley Cole were outstanding in repelling them. A shot that came in from Johnson was a long-range one which flew over.
On 75 minutes, Torres for once got across Terry but headed a Johnson ball wide.
A minute later Gerrard was booked for a nasty challenge on Lampard 30 yards from the Liverpool goal. Drogba was not too far away from planting the free-kick inside the near post.
It was Liverpool on top throughout the final 15 minutes, Chelsea concentrating more on cutting off supply to their most dangerous players than pushing forward ourselves. Lampard's best work during the game was defensive.
When the visitors' two biggest threats did have a sight of the target, first Terry bravely blocked Gerrard's shot and then Torres rolled the ball wide.
That wasn't Liverpool's worse miss though. That was by Benayoun in stoppage time, but by then Chelsea were 2-0 up.
The 90 minutes had just been played when Drogba chased a ball out wide on the right, gaining possession and then destroying Carragher as he drove into the area. When the ball was powered in, substitute Malouda with back to goal, turned it in on the tumble.
Drogba had not had one of his better games, yet he had still made both goals.
There was no way back now, especially with Benayoun missing with only Hilario to beat and the Сhelsea keeper (who once again had far from let his side down) saving a Gerrard volley.
So Chelsea can look at a two-point cushion at the top during the two-week international break. That is a good response to the Wigan defeat.
Liverpool, with three league defeats now, are down in fifth.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2): Hilario; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien; Ballack, Lampard; Deco (Malouda 75); Anelka, Drogba.
Scorers Anelka 59, Malouda 90.
Booked Essien 43.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua (Aurelio 83); Lucas (Babel 75), Mascherano; Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera (Benayoun 66); Torres. Booked Gerrard 76.
Watch the 90 minutes on Chelsea TV from midnight.