What could have been - Torres rues his two early missed chances [AFP]

Fernando Torres' highly anticipated first game for Chelsea ended in defeat at the hands of his former club Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in the English Premier League on Sunday.

It was far from the showpiece debut that the $80 million star signing Torres was hoping for in a personal performance that lacked impact and among a Chelsea attack that was lacklustre.

Chelsea wasted the opportunity to take advantage of Manchester United's first league defeat of the season yesterday to Wolves, as Liverpool inched closer to contesting the Champions League spots.

The Reds have now won the last four league games in a revival sparked by the return of manager Kenny Dalglish.

Early chances

Torres, who moved from Anfield to Chelsea on the last day of the transfer window, had two early chances but faded before being hauled off after just 66 minutes and the Spain striker had even more reason to forget his Stamford Bridge bow when Liverpool's Raul Meireles bagged the 69th-minute winner for his old team just moments after his premature exit.

Jamie Carragher, in his first match since November, played as one of three centre backs in a bid to counter Chelsea's three-pronged attack, with Torres and Didier Drogba leading the line and Nicolas Anelka in a supporting role.

Torres was centre stage and did have a chance to make an instant impact when a wayward Maxi Rodriguez pass sent him through after 90 seconds but he shot wildly over the bar.

A typically determined sliding block by Carragher foiled the Spaniard when Drogba sent him clear after 31 minutes and Rodriguez sidefooted against the bar from point-blank range.

Confident Reds

Chelsea did not look comfortable trying to accommodate their three front men and Liverpool grew in confidence in the second half.

Torres, a peripheral figure after the break, was taken off and given a raucous send-off by the visiting supporters.

The Spaniard has been well below his best for much of this season and this was another strangely subdued display. There was no obvious sign of any understanding between Torres and Drogba and Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti had clearly seen enough.

The Blues boss decided to send on Salomon Kalou in place of Torres, prompting a jubilant chorus of "you should have stayed at a big club" from Liverpool's fans.

The fans were shouting even louder when Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic, who had exchanged expletives during an earlier mix-up, left a Steven Gerrard cross to each other and Meireles reacted sharply to hook it into the net.

Chelsea piled bodies forward but other than long-range shots by Anelka and Michael Essien they rarely troubled Pepe Reina.

Tactical battle

EPL results

Saturday February 5

 Stoke 3-2 Sunderland
 Aston Villa 2-2 Fulham
 Everton 5-3 Blackpool
 Man City 3-0 West Brom
 Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal
 Tottenham 2-1 Bolton
 Wigan 4-3 Blackburn
 Wolves 2-1 Man Utd

Sunday February 6

 
West Ham 0-1 Birmingham
 Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool

Dalglish won the tactical battle with his Chelsea counterpart Carlo Ancelotti and defeat leaves the Blues, who are 10 points behind leaders Manchester United, with virtually no chance of retaining the Premier League title.

Dalglish's side are now just six points behind Chelsea and it is not impossible that Torres could see his former team beat his new club to a place in the Champions League.

"We are quite on a roll at the moment and are enjoying it,'' Dalglish said.

"I didn't see our goalkeeper having too much to do and our defence was magnificent in front of him. I don't think any of their forwards will be too happy about the game they had.''

In Sunday's other Premier League match, Birmingham City won 1-0 at fellow strugglers West Ham United.

Manchester United lead the Premier League standings on 54 points. Arsenal, who blew a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 in an incredible match at Newcastle United, are second on 50.

Manchester City are third on 49 with champions Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur on 44. Liverpool moved up to sixth on 38 and, a matter of weeks after flirting with the relegation zone, are now eyeing European qualification.

Source: Agencies