Glen Johnson came back to haunt Chelsea with an 88th minute winner to secure Liverpool a second victory at Stamford Bridge in as many seasons.
After substitute Daniel Sturridge cancelled out Maxi Rodriguez’s first-half opener, it was left to Johnson, who spent four years at Chelsea before leaving in 2007, to stroke home the winner two minutes from time.
During a weekend in which Manchester City’s Micah Richards had strongly staked a claim for the England right-back spot, Johnson’s late intervention served as a timely reminder as to his quality.
Chelsea were looking to close the gap between themselves and City to nine-points and propel themselves into third, while Liverpool’s pursuit on the top four in the Barclays Premier League relied on them continuing their impressive form on the road after three successive home draws.
The hosts had conceded five on their last league outing at the Bridge against Arsenal, and The Reds, keen to repeat their one-goal victory from last season, set about exposing their defensive frailties, and struck just after the half-hour.
Charlie Adam nicked the ball off John Obi Mikel after Petr Cech’s short goal-kick and Craig Bellamy, who exchanged passes neatly with Luis Suarez, fed Maxi, making his first league start of the season, to tuck the ball away.
It was the least Liverpool deserved as Andre Villas-Boas’ side toiled in the opening half.
The game appeared to turn on the half-time introduction of Sturridge, who won his first England cap in mid-week against Sweden, and the 22-year-old leveled the scores 10 minutes after the break.
Liverpool opted to back off the marauding Florent Malouda, whose low cross was tapped home by Sturridge.
Very much like his return from his loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in time to impress a new manager, Sturridge was at the right place at the right time, to equalise.
The home side could have gone ahead just a minute later, but Pepe Reina made a stunning stop from Branislav Ivanovic’s flicked header.
And when the game looked to be heading for a draw and with Fernando Torres introduced as a late second half substitute, it was a Chelsea old boy, Johnson, who slalomed past Ashley Cole and placed the ball beyond Cech.
The goal was a poignant reminder of the sort of skill Torres used to produce in the red of Liverpool, and another example of how Chelsea’s defensive fallibility is continuing to undermine their bid for the title, a race they now lie 12 points off the pace in.