An untimely slip by Steven Gerrard helped Chelsea claim a 2-0 win over English Premier League leaders Liverpool at Anfield to reignite the London club’s title ambitions.
The Liverpool captain lost his footing in first-half injury time on Sunday, enabling Demba Ba to run through and score, with Willian adding a late second as Jose Mourinho’s side moved to within two points of the summit.
The result brought Liverpool’s 11-game winning streak to an end and, although it resurrected Chelsea’s title chances, the chief beneficiaries could be Manchester City.
With a superior goal difference, Manuel Pellegrini’s team have an advantage.
Mourinho, who travelled separately from his squad because he is ill, will now turn his attention to Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid, with the tie in the balance at 0-0.
Anfield was already simmering when Luis Garcia, scorer of the decisive goal when these sides met in the 2005 Champions League semi-finals, was paraded to fans before kick-off, raising the noise levels even further.
Gerrard at one point had to wrench the ball from Mourinho’s grasp as the Chelsea manager attempted to prevent a quick throw-in.
Mourinho had made seven changes to his starting XI, awarding a full debut to 20-year-old Czech centre-back Tamas Kalas, and the visitors set out to spoil the game right from kick-off.
They were dallying over free-kicks within minutes of the whistle being blown, while Gerrard at one point had to wrench the ball from Mourinho’s grasp as the Chelsea manager attempted to prevent a quick throw-in.
Chelsea were the first side to threaten, however, with home goalkeeper Simon Mignolet obliged to parry a shot from Ashley Cole.
At the other end, Luis Suarez teed up Philippe Coutinho to volley into the side-netting and then found Mamadou Sakho with a drilled cross, only for the Frenchman to hoist the ball over the bar from close range.
Suarez also curled an effort over, but Chelsea finished the half strongly, and after the unmarked Kalas had headed badly wide from a corner, Gerrard’s nightmare moment let the visitors in.
After letting a pass from Sakho run under his foot, the England captain slipped as he tried to recover. As Anfield gasped, Ba stole in, racing through and calmly threading the ball past Mignolet.
Liverpool resumed their assault on the Chelsea goal after the interval, but a deflected Gerrard effort that Mark Schwarzer saved easily was the best they could muster in the early stages.
Rodgers responded by sending on the fit-again Daniel Sturridge and Schwarzer was obliged to exert himself fully moments later, plunging to his left to repel a Joe Allen volley.
Suarez had one last chance in injury time, when a punch from Schwarzer fell straight to him, but the goalkeeper palmed the Uruguayan’s shot away.
Chelsea had the last word, with Fernando Torres racing clear and unselfishly teeing up fellow substitute Willian for an easy tap-in that Mourinho celebrated by thumping his chest on the touchline.