Chelsea keep the Reds subdued
Chelsea's march towards a second successive Premiership title took another giant step forward with a well-deserved victory over 10-man Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
A goal in each half from defender William Gallas and then Argentinian striker Hernan Crespo - his 11th in all competitions this season - increased the gap between Jose Mourinho's men and third-placed Liverpool to a 21 points.
It also restored the margin between them and Manchester United to its pre-weekend tally of 15 as the champions showed no signs of suffering the mini-crisis their rivals were hoping for.
Liverpool's dismal afternoon was compounded nine minutes from time when goalkeeper Jose Reina was sent off for a disgraceful lunge at Chelsea substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The clash was Liverpool's ninth meeting with Mourinho's side in 16 months and marked the start of a punishing period of 10 critical matches in 36 days for the Reds.
Chelsea went into the game on the back of two consecutive 1-1 draws and were subdued by their own standards in the early exchanges.
They were frustrated by a succession of offside decisions against them, and Mourinho held up his arms in exasperation towards the referee as Crespo was punished yet again on the half-hour.
Chelsea's Joe Cole won a corner in the 33rd minute, and it paid off with French defender Gallas steering the ball into the net after Carvalho had beaten Gerrard in the air to knock Frank Lampard's corner into his path.
The French defender, with his back to the goal six yards out, cleverly turned to hook a low shot beyond the stranded Reina. Gallas immediately ran to coach Mourinho to celebrate.
Chelsea should have been two up moments later when Cole dispossessed the lethargic Stephen Warnock on the right-hand edge of the Liverpool penalty area.
But instead of squaring the ball to the waiting Crespo, Cole opted to drill a low shot into the side-netting to the disgust of Mourinho.
Liverpool, clearly stung by the strike from Gallas, attempted to get back on level terms - but fine defending from Terry kept them at bay.
Gerrard slipping his marker just before the break, but his left-foot shot lacked the venomous intent of his usual efforts - and the ball ran wide of Petr Cech's left-hand post.
In the 45th minute Crespo had a goal ruled out for offside, after Reina spilled Terry's header on the goal-line.
Chelsea had to thank Cech for keeping them in front in the 50th minute when he denied Gerrard with a fine save low to his right, after the England midfielder had unleashed a 20-yard drive.
Seconds later Xabi Alonso was booked for a challenge on Terry - but Liverpool had begun to put the champions under sustained pressure for the first time in the game.
The visitors almost paid the price for their attacking when Robben broke clear in the 53rd minute and delivered a left-foot shot which appeared to be tipped around the far post by Reina.
However, much to Chelsea's dismay, the referee awarded Liverpool a goal-kick instead. The Merseysiders replaced Riise with Luis Garcia on the hour, but Chelsea were in no mood to allow their precious lead slip.
Garcia's first contribution was to receive a yellow card from Wiley for a lunge at goalscorer Gallas in the 62nd minute, and moments later Liverpool goalkeeper Reina had to be at his best to stop a long range drive from Cole.
Crespo put Chelsea in a commanding position in the 67th minute when he beat the offside trap to latch on to Asier del Horno's lobbed pass and fire a crisp volley into the corner beyond Reina.
Reina's afternoon was to end in shame when he was sent off in the 81st minute for that challenge on Gudjohnsen.