For once it was not the weight of expectation and criticism on Fernando Torres's back but the knees of John Terry and Alex. Both Chelsea centre-halves committed aerial assault on Liverpool's record signing yesterday, yet neither could match the impression he left at Anfield: that of a striker and a team reborn.

It is a long time since Anfield bounced as buoyantly as this or that Torres stirred the entire stadium whenever he took possession and headed for goal. Only one week ago he was mostly abject against Bolton Wanderers and the euphoria of a late victory was laced with concern among Liverpool's travelling support at whether they would witness the brilliance of the Spain international again. In keeping with the many contradictions of Liverpool's season he responded with a demolition of the champions, his sixth and seventh goals in eight appearances against Chelsea and the promise of more to come.

"It has been difficult," said Torres. "It was a tough end to last season for me and in the World Cup with lots of injuries. But every day I'm feeling better and improving. I don't know if I can play at my best soon but I hope I will be playing my best. It's part of life as a footballer, being criticised. I know the expectation and I want to fight hard to get my top form."

The manager, Roy Hodgson, has cited a poor World Cup - at least on an individual level - for the Spanish striker's descent into self-doubt. He would not be alone on that score. Torres had been reluctant to attempt the audacious until yesterday, it is true, but equally Liverpool's football in the first quarter of the campaign would have struggled to utilise the skills of any forward in the game.

It was no surprise that Torres's body language betrayed a frustrated, disaffected figure, one prone to telling Jamie Carragher to shut up in the opening minutes of the Merseyside derby, when his team-mates were so deep that he was cut adrift from the pack. Or that aimless long punts towards the corner flag were often met with a half-hearted pursuit and a shake of the head.

Here, however, Hodgson's game plan not only smothered Chelsea as an attacking threat but provided Torres with the support he craves. Last weekend at the Reebok the introduction of David Ngog for the hamstrung Joe Cole ignited an immediate improvement in the Liverpool No9, for whom a torturous afternoon was reprieved when he created Maxi Rodríguez's winner with an exquisite back heel. Against Chelsea it was the return of Dirk Kuyt, and specifically the return of the Dutch international alongside Torres up front, that allowed the Spaniard to apply touches of class to a relentless home performance.

As Torres noted, this was not a victory built solely on his personal redemption but on that of the entire Liverpool team. "We knew our start of the season wasn't good enough," he said. "Liverpool have never been in the relegation zone after nine games but we are now going forward, moving up the table and getting better every day. We knew from the beginning of this season that we needed time to work with the new manager and new players."

Steven Gerrard, his own authority improved by his 15-minute hat-trick against Napoli on Thursday, produced his most influential display in central midfield this term. Alongside him the outstanding Lucas Leiva chased, harried and snapped.

Any reservations over a Liverpool defence minus its most effective centre-half in recent weeks - the ill Sotirios Kyrgiakos - were dispelled by Carragher reprising past Champions League displays against Chelsea and the efficiency of Martin Kelly at right-back. The young defender has endured some difficult outings as a stop-gap left-back in Europe recently but excelled on his full Premier League debut on his natural side.

Kuyt's sublime ball over the top of Terry for Liverpool's opening goal was a rarity for Torres this season, although there was no evidence of rust as he controlled superbly before striking into the ground and over Petr Cech.

The second was truly the Torres of old and encapsulated the team's first?half display. Lucas and Raul Meireles capitalised on Ashley Cole's slip in an instant, the Portugal international released the re?energised 26-year-old down the left and Anfield expected. A stunning shot between Branislav Ivanovic and Alex that curled just inside the far post ensured they were not disappointed.

"It is three more points but this is a different sort of game that gives you more than three points, it gives you more confidence," Torres said. "We've wasted a lot of points at the beginning and we have to win every game now."

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