Glen Johnson consigned former club Chelsea to a second straight home defeat in the Premier League with a late winner at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as Liverpool snatched a 2-1 victory to reignite its chances of finishing in the top four.
Galloping onto Charlie Adam's raking pass in the 87th minute, the England right back cut inside international teammate Ashley Cole, burst into the area before curling home left-footed into the bottom corner.
Not only did Johnson's superb solo goal extend Liverpool's unbeaten run in the league to seven matches and lift the team above Arsenal into sixth place, it also dealt a major blow to Chelsea's hopes of reeling in unbeaten leader Manchester City.
City is 12 points clear of Chelsea after nearly a third of the season, which will pile the pressure on the London club's inexperienced manager Andre Villas-Boas, especially given the notorious impatience of Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
“The situation in the league isn't good for us but it's not impossible to turn it around,” said Villas-Boas, whose team has lost three of its last four matches.
Former Argentina midfielder Maxi Rodriguez had given Liverpool a deserved lead in the 33rd minute on his first league start of the season, before Daniel Sturridge equalized from close range 10 minutes after coming on as a halftime substitute and adding some urgency to Chelsea's sterile attacking play.
If either side looked likely to nick a winner in the dying stages, it was Chelsea. But up popped Johnson to decide the game against the team he played for between 2003-07.
“It was a great finish by Glen,” Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said. “I don't know what he was doing in there, but it was a great finish.
“Glen's gone up into their box after 87 minutes. A right back. That gives you an indication of what we wanted from the game.”
Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are all level on 22 points, as is Tottenham, which has two games in hand starting with a home match against Aston Villa on Monday.
In the end, the much-anticipated prospect of Chelsea striker Fernando Torres playing against the club that sold him for a British record fee of 50 million pounds ($81 million) in January never really materialized.
The Spain striker started on the bench and only came on in the 84th minute for the largely ineffective Didier Drogba, providing no late threat. The statistic remains that Torres has scored more goals for Liverpool (four) than Chelsea (three) in 2011.
It was Torres' replacement at Anfield, Luis Suarez, who was the liveliest attacker on show. The Uruguay international caused all sorts of problems for the Chelsea defence with his ceaseless work rate and foraging runs, and was inevitably involved in the opening goal.
Charlie Adam dispossessed John Obi Mikel after the Chelsea midfielder was sent an unwise pass by his goalkeeper Petr Cech. Suarez and Craig Bellamy then combined to send in Rodriguez, who slotted home a crisp finish from 15 yards (meters).
Rodriguez has seldom been used by Dalglish this season, even though he scored seven goals — including two hat tricks — in three matches at the end of last season in Liverpool's late run to sixth place.
However, he excelled here in his first start of the campaign with his elusive running and neat link-up play with the irrepressible Suarez.
Sturridge made a difference when he came on and the striker, who made his debut for England in midweek, timed his run into the six-yard box to perfection to meet a low cross-shot by Florent Malouda for the equalizer.
Malouda wasted a decent chance in the 75th minute before Johnson's sublime winner.
Villas-Boas refused to acknowledge his job was under pressure but did admit the gap to City is “worrying.”
“The owner didn't pay 15 million pounds to get me out of (a contract at) Porto to pay me another fortune to get out,” said Villas-Boas.