So, a question: These teams played in the FA Cup final on Saturday, where Liverpool didn't turn up for the first hour and then were excellent in the final half-hour, with Andy Carroll playing extraordinarily well. Let's say they start with Carroll tonight, they pick up where they left off and Chelsea are blown away – wouldn't that make Liverpool feel worse about their Cup final defeat, and life in general, than if Chelsea better them again tonight? Might they not just want to play poorly, lose at Anfield once again, continue the narrative of the last several months without potentially confusing last-ditch upturns, and get on with the summer rebuild?
Just imagine this worst-case scenario: Stewart Downing has a blinder today, scores a couple, grabs a few assists. It would be a nightmare, a disaster. Nobody would know what to think. No, at this stage of the season it's good to know where you stand, to have a little certainty. Don't you think?
The teams are in! And Chelsea have rendered my previous question irrelevant by making eight changes to the side that started at Wembley, including sticking Fernando Torres in their starting line-up. Liverpool have made four changes of their own, giving Steven Gerrard the night off, because of a minor back injury. So what happened at Wembley and what happens tonight are totally unrelated.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Downing, Henderson, Shelvey, Maxi, Suarez, Carroll. Subs: Doni, Coates, Kuyt, Spearing, Sterling, Kelly, Bellamy.
Chelsea: Turnbull, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Bertrand, Essien, Romeu, Ramires, Sturridge, Malouda, Torres. Subs: Hilario, Cole, Lampard, Mata, Lukaku, Kalou, Hutchinson.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Another question: "If Chelsea win 1-0 this evening, and then beat Blackburn by a single goal whilst Tottenham draw scoring the same number of goals as Chelsea on Sunday ... which of the two teams finishes highest in the table?" asks Philip Hayes. Thanks for asking, Philip. My understanding is this: if the teams finish level on points, on goal difference and on goals scored – which is certainly possible – and if European qualification is at stake, they will have to play off. I would love this to happen.
Yet another question: "Can you (everyone!) please stop saying Andy Carroll played very well on saturday?" asks Roger Frost. No, but go on. "Every time he got the ball he laid it off 20-30 metres, and then turned and ran into the box waiting for a cross. As normal he was often beaten to the ball by defenders smaller than him, and as always he furiously and incorrectly claimed a corner when he did manage to make contact and head it over the bar. Just because he looked up for it and scored a goal does not mean he played extraordinarily well or is a good player. Please stop before someone thinks it would be a good idea to take him to Euro 2012!" I thought he really was extraordinary on Saturday, but my worry was this: if the only difference between useless Carroll and amazing Carroll is a serious amount of motivation, and if he isn't able to motivate himself to that level regularly, or even occasionally, then that don't impress me much.
Yet more questions: Here is a poll. Feel free to vote. For posterity: the poll asked who should be England's big man on the bench at the Euros this summer? The results, afrer 4,024 votes, were: Andy Carroll – 28.7%; Grant Holt – 27.98%; Peter Crouch – 14.51%; Any team even considering picking any of them might as well not turn up – 28.8%.
100 votes in already! And Grant Holt is winning. I might agree, partly because he's clearly a capable player, if not necessarily a brilliant one, and partly because I'm an old romantic.
In the time it took me to write that 350 more people voted. And Grant Holt is still winning.
The teams are out! Kick off is but moments away, people.
1 min: Peeeeeeeeeep! They're off! Chelsea get the game under way, heading from left to right as the cameras look at it.
3 mins: A much better opening than on Saturday. Liverpool have even but a decent move together, which they didn't do for the entire opening half at Wembley, but Suárez shoved Ferreira as the cross came in and a free kick is given.
5 mins: Torres is getting very noisily booed every time he touches the ball. I just don't get it.
6 mins: Play is stopped while Chelsea's medics treat Malouda, who has been down for a couple of minutes, holding the back of his head, since Shelvey kick him in the back of it.
7 mins: CHANCE! Suárez nutmegs Terry very nicely indeed to play himself through on goal, but he shoots early and wide.
9 mins: Liverpool are wearing shirts emblazoned with an unfamiliar "Seeing is Believing" logo tonight. It's not a new sponsor, it's old sponsor Standard Chartered's global charity initiative. The shirts will be signed and auctioned after the match.
11 mins: Liverpool have started very brightly, keeping the ball well and hustling Chelsea off the ball even better.
13 mins: Ryan Bertrand executes a very nice shoulder-barge to make sure that Henderson doesn't get the ball. Proper old-fashioned, that was.
15 mins: Ferreira continues the old-fashioned fouling theme by tripping Suárez with particular cynicism, and is booked for it.
16 mins: A long punt forward from Reina, a ludicrous flying backheel-volley lay-off from Suárez, and Carroll shoots not too far over the bar from 20-odd yards.
17 mins: At the other end, Sturridge's shot deflects narrowly wide with the goalkeeper wrong-footed.
17 mins: Chelsea hit the post! From the corner, Ivanovic gets a clean header six yards out and bang in the middle of goal, but sends the ball thudding against the bar.
18 mins: That Ivanovic miss was preceded by some brilliant comedy defending which saw three defenders all run to the near post before falling over each other, and all three were on the ground when the Chelsea player won his header.
GOAL! Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0 (Essien own goal, 19 mins) A brilliant run from Suárez, who picks up the ball tight to the right touchline, nutmegs Terry again, runs into the penalty area, runs a bit more, runs for an extra little bit, and then cuts the ball back to Essien who touches home at the near post. He didn't know a lot about it, to be fair.
22 mins: Carroll falls very easily over Terry's arm, and the Chelsea captain is booked. "What's not to get?" asks David McKenna of the Torres booing. "The man published an autobiography adorned in red and Liverbirds, publicly stated how much he loved LFC and that he would never go to another English team, went on and on about how he wanted his children to speak with a Scouse accent etc etc etc... For years he gushed about his Liverpool love affair and then out of the blue he engineered a deadline day move to one of Liverpool's biggest rivals." Well I suppose if you put it like that.
GOAL! Liverpool 2 Chelsea 0 (Henderson, 25 mins)! Total calamity for John Terry! A nice run from Henderson, but Maxi's pass was terribly misplaced. Fortunately Terry fell over, allowing Henderson to collect it anyway, run clear and finish extremely calmly past Turnbull.
28 mins: Another terrible mistake from Chelsea! This time Ivanovic rolls the ball across his penalty area and straight to a Liverpool player. Fortunately that player is Downing, and he gives the chance away.
28 mins: More terrible Chelsea defending, as the corner is side-footed along the ground to Suárez, standing 12 yards from goal. How did that happen? All Liverpool end up with, though, is another corner.
GOAL! Liverpool 3 Chelsea 0 (Agger, 29 mins)! Madness! A corner from the left wing zips to Carroll at the far post, he heads back across goal and Agger nods home from five yards.
31 mins: Chelsea's defending has been absurdly poor, with Terry at his very worst. Presumably they'll start playing at some point.
32 mins: Chance! Suarez finds Maxi bursting into the penalty area. He takes the ball around the goalkeeper but from a very tight angle his shot is deflected out of play for a corner.
34 mins: Another Terry error! This time he flicks the ball on for Carroll to burst into the penalty area, but his curler is saved. A decent chance. Terry is looking like Ali Dia on a bad day.
35 mins: Chelsea hit the bar! The ball rolls to Fernando Torres on the edge of Liverpool's penalty area. One touch takes him past his marker and sprinting towards goal, and another touch sends the ball thundering onto the crossbar from an acute angle. Say what you like about Torres, the lad misses with style. "I think we all find autobiographies by 25 year-olds disgusting (and a bit pessimistic)," writes Matthew Sommer in response to David McKenna (22 mins), " but is that really reason to boo a man?"
38 mins: Chelsea have done a little bit of attacking in the last few minutes, but they are also doing a lot of falling over. Torres is the latest slipper, to the fans' great glee. "I feel David Mckenna's (22mins) pain," writes Alistair Hann, "but wonder if he and the booing LFC fans aren't being just a little naive. I have long accepted the fact that footballers (and by that I mean every single footballer on the planet) will go anywhere for dollars. It's like a physical law of the universe – best not to fight it. Nice words about 'love for the club' simply don't mean a thing, there's no point setting any stall by them." I agree with Alistair, pretty much.
41 mins: Liverpool hit the bar! And it was Downing, accepting Suárez's lay-off, controlling the ball on his thigh and volleying it from 25 yards over Turnbull and off the top of the bar.
44 mins: Essien leaps two-footed onto Carroll's calf, studs raking. That was a red card with bells on. He gets booked.
45+1 mins: Chelsea start two minutes of stoppage-time with a corner, which Carroll heads clear. "The booing of opposition players is one of the main roles of fans, ie to try to weaken the opposition," writes Jeremy Smith. "If it inspires them and they play well, fair play to them, that is the nature of the game. And the amount of booing is closely calibrated to each player – and how they left a club. eg Villa fans boo Downing a lot, Barry and Young a little bit and Milner not at all. You may say it's all silly, but it is wrong to think that there is no reason or logic to it."
45+2 mins: Penalty to Liverpool! And Ivanovic is booked! For elbowing Carroll in the face, or at least high in the chest, as they competed for Henderson's cross.
45+3 mins: Liverpool let Downing take the penalty – and he misses it! He hits the woodwork for the second time this evening, the left hand post this time, after sending the keeper the wrong way. It rebounds clear.
45+3 mins: Peeeeeeeep! It's half-time! And I need a drink.
Some thoughts at the end of a mental first half: 1: If John Terry wasn't John Terry, but was some 20-year-old debutant playing exactly as John Terry has played tonight, he would have been substituted after half an hour, and would even now be preparing for a summer free transfer to Leyton Orient. 2: Stewart Downing can miss from anywhere. 3: Not only have Liverpool famously hit the woodwork more than any other side, but it's clearly contagious: Chelsea have done it twice this evening as well.
Graeme Souness and Ray Wilkins both agree that Ivanovic's penalty-incurring offence was worthy of a red card. It wasn't very violent, but it was very deliberate. Will that do?
Penalty-missing update: Liverpool have missed five of the six penalties they have been awarded in the Premier League this season. It's the first time since 1998/99 that any side has missed five.
46 mins: Peeeeeeeep! They're off! Again! Liverpool doing the honours this time. "The commentator suggested that it was nerves getting the better of Downing that made him miss the penalty," writes Nick Honeywell. " I'd suggest it was being Stuart Downing that got the better of him, actually." Indeed, Nick. Indeed.
48 mins: Downing crosses nicely for Carroll, who heads across goal but straight to a Chelsea player. Steven Gerrard is in the audience, in a suit, and doesn't have an iPhone.
GOAL! Liverpool 3 Chelsea 1 (Ramires, 50 mins) Chelsea swing in a free-kick from the right wing, it comes off Ramires's thigh, clips Reina and rolls into the net.
53 mins: Liverpool are shooting from anywhere tonight. The latest is from Skrtel, who lashes the ball goalwards from a silly angle despite having three team-mates to aim for in the middle. Wrong decision.
56 mins: What we have, basically, is a team who were really motivated in the first half because of the recent beating they'd taken but now just want to gloat about how well they're doing, playing a team who just wanted to gloat about how well they were doing, but are now really motivated because of the beating they're taking. Got that?
GOAL! Liverpool 4 Chelsea 1 (Shelvey, 61 mins)! Another terrible defensive blunder! This time Turnbull's clearance, under no pressure at all, goes straight to Shelvey, 40 yards out, who simply has to take aim at an empty goal. He succeeds excellently, lashing the ball into the top corner.
63 mins: Carroll runs 30 yards and sends himself sliding into the advertising hoardings, in order to deny Chelsea a goal-kick and give them a throw-in instead. The crowd love it.
64 mins: Carroll attempts a ludicrously audacious overhead kick from 15 yards out. He succeeds only in kicking Ivanovic in the back.
65 mins: Henderson gets Liverpool's first yellow card. "Let's say a player fouls an opponent and it's a yellow card offence, and he's already on a yellow card," hypothecises Nicholas John. "However, the ref plays an advantage, but the keeper saves the shot and punts the ball upfield where the player who had committed the foul scores a goal! What happens?" Surely he's shown a second yellow card, and sent off, after the goal. Unless he celebrates the goal by taking off his shirt or running into the crowd, in which case he is booked, sent off, and then booked again.
68 mins: Romelu Lukaku comes on for Sturridge.
69 mins: Here's a question of my own: if the scoring system in football was that you got one goal for hitting the ball between the posts and under the bar (i.e. in what we commonly term the "goal"), but two goals for hitting the much smaller target surrounding the goal made of wood (generally known as the "woodwork"), where would Liverpool be in the league this season?
71 mins: Agger gets booked, for giving Ramires a good kicking.
73 mins: Terrible miss! Chelsea cross from the right, and the ball arrows its way onto Lukaku's head, unmarked, five yards from goal, bang central. He heads straight down the middle, giving Reina the chance to make an excellent save.
74 mins: Terrible miss at the other end! This time it's Liverpool crossing from the right, and the ball curls into the path of Carroll. It lands obligingly on his favoured left foot, but he gets the volley horribly wrong and the ball bobbles wide.
76 mins: Malouda's 40-yard shot, direct from a free kick, hits the wall. "Exactly how many times has Liverpool hit the woodwork this season in the EPL?" asks Rhodan. I think it was 31 coming into tonight, in all competitions.
78 mins: Ivanovic attempts to usher the ball out of play when Suàrez, from behind, reaches round and prods him in the chin. The Chelsea player spends a couple of minutes rolling around, while Suárez looks terribly apologetic. The referee keeps his cards in his pocket.
80 mins: Chance! The ball is played to Downing, in space on the right side of the penalty area. He cuts inside, but (for obvious and pretty good reasons, one assumes) decides against shooting and tries to backheel the ball into the path of Suárez. He's no better at backheeling than he is at shooting, though.
83 mins: Essien, after a two-minute build-up, sends a free-kick sailing high over the bar. Dirk Kuyt and Raheem Stirling come on for Liverpool, replacing Maxi Rodriguez and Stewart Downing. "Given that this arrangement would induce Liverpool players to aim for the woodwork," writes Ian Grainger of my 69th-minute poser, "I imagine that it would leave them precisely where they are at the moment – mid-table mediocrity." Yup, that's what most people are saying.
85 mins: Sterling's first touch is a shot, running on to Suárez's flick to volley over from just inside the penalty area. He looks about 12.
88 mins: Ivanovic, who refused to shake Suárez's offered handshake after their 79th-minute coming-together, gets some studs in the thigh as punishment, possibly accidental. "How many points for a ball pushed onto the post by a keeper, and would it be possible to hit a hat-trick in one shot by rebounding the ball off both posts and the crossbar?" asks Ben Dunn. "And most importantly of all, how many points for a shot that hits the stanchion?" Crikey, I've no idea about any of that.
90 mins: Chance! Kuyt cuts in from the right, passes to Suárez, and continues his run. Suárez returns the ball to Kuyt, continues his run, gets it back again, and then spears the ball wide of the near post. Should have tested the keeper then. "I'm sure some other busybody has already emailed in, but Nicholas John's question has a straightforward answer: a ref shouldn't play on in that scenario – he should stop play and send the player off with a second yellow card," writes Jake Smith. So there's your answer.
90+2 mins: Suárez's corner is flicked on by Sterling and runs right across goal. Carroll crosses it back in, and Agger heads just wide of the far post.
90+3 mins: Peeeeeeeeeep! It's all over! And if you've enjoyed this game, why not enjoy some photographs of it in our gallery?
One thing we know for sure: Chelsea will finish sixth this season.
Liverpool's players have brought their families onto the pitch to join their lap of ... well ... their lap. What a lot of babies! These guys are breeding wildly! At least five under-ones out there.
What we learned tonight: 1: John Terry can do a passable impression of a clown. 2: Stewart Downing should be banned from shooting. And, ideally, from playing. 3: Steven Gerrard is great, but Liverpool are OK without him (see Jonathan Wilson here, if you like). Frank Lampard is also great, but Chelsea are nowhere near as good without him. 4: Andy Carroll's going to come good. 5. So will Jordan Henderson. 6: Watching two great teams play great is great, but watching teams play like buffoons is in many ways better. What we didn't learn tonight: If the scoring system in football was that you got one goal... (snip – see 69 mins for more).
Incidentally, final score in our pre-match poll: Andy Carroll is the nation's choice as England's big man up front, earning 28.37% of the vote. Grant Holt comes second, with 28.17%. It was that close.