Chelsea's tactics left Anfield frustrated in what was a brutal and brilliant win by the visitors, halting Brendan Rodgers' men in their title charge
By Jonathan Birchall at Anfield
This is probably what they mean by the business end of the season. Pragmatism. Cynicism. Getting the job done, by any means possible. Chelsea did exactly that.
Liverpool have lost at home 2-0 and the direction of this title, yet again, is anybody's guess. The air of invincibility at Anfield smoked out by Jose Mourinho and an away performance built on brutal discipline, both brilliant and ill.
Chelsea came for a war of attrition and the battle lines were drawn from the start. Luis Garcia, scorer of the so-called 'ghost goal' against Mourinho's side in the 2005 Champions League semi-final that ended with glory in Istanbul for Liverpool, was brought onto the pitch as a gentle reminder of conflicts past.
Outside the ground, flares and flags met the team buses on arrival at Anfield and Breck Road, where the fans march towards the ground down from Everton Valley. If Chelsea wanted to stop the Liverpool behemoth, they were going to have to put in one hell of a shift.
They did. Of course they did. Mourinho may have taken issue with the performance being called a "defensive display" in his post-match press conference, but this was a game played his way, unbreakable in front of their own goal. "Two buses at the back", as Rodgers described it.
Not that it was quite as simple as that. The Chelsea manager claimed to have never heard of time-wasting. It must have a different name in Portugal.
Every possible second was sucked away from Liverpool, every disruption and delay exploited. The more the hosts were made to wait, the more Anfield, a stadium of unshakeable confidence in 2014, grew nervy.
Steven Gerrard snatched the ball from Mourinho on the touchline and Luis Suarez sarcastically applauded Mark Schwarzer as the Australian stood over the ball. There was little more Liverpool could do.
And typically irony struck at its cruellest, as Gerrard slipped in the first half injury time the home side so craved. Demba Ba took advantage and broke the deadlock. Willian repeated the trick on the break late on, working with of all people Fernando Torres to twist the knife and make the victory look far more comfortable than it was.
As such, the advantage is Manchester City's, for whom Chelsea's three points may prove invaluable. It is now in Manuel Pellegrini's hands. Liverpool can merely watch on, left in no doubt as to how near impossibly difficult this league is to win.
For Chelsea and Mourinho, it was simply business as usual.