Chelsea took command of the Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool as Guus Hiddink's side stunned Anfield with an exhilarating attacking exhibition.
Fernando Torres looked to have put Liverpool on course for another glorious European night when he fired Rafael Benitez's in-form European specialists ahead after only six minutes.
But Chelsea responded in style to run out emphatic winners of an enthralling encounter, in which Liverpool played a full part until they were eventually overpowered.
Branislav Ivanovic was Chelsea's unlikely hero, heading goals either side of the interval to put Chelsea ahead - twice taking advantage of Liverpool's familiar Achilles heel, wretched marking at corners.
Didier Drogba, who wasted two excellent opportunities to score before Ivanovic levelled six minutes before the interval, was on target after 67 minutes when he turned in Florent Malouda's left-wing cross from eight yards as Liverpool suddenly collapsed under the weight of Chelsea's pressure.
The only black mark on Chelsea's night was a second-half booking for captain John Terry for a challenge on Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina that rules him out of next week's second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool have specialised in comebacks against the odds in the past, but it is hard to see how Benitez - who will have been left exasperated by his side's defending - can navigate a route out of this one against a Chelsea side who have been rejuvenated by the veteran Hiddink.
In the previous Champions League meetings between the sides it has been almost impossible to separate them, but Chelsea have never adopted such a positive approach before and Hiddink reaped a rich reward.
Hiddink pleased with 'deserved' win
Anfield was left subdued apart from a defiant rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the final whistle - all Liverpool's hopes dashed by Chelsea after the optimism sparked by Torres' early goal.
Chelsea's fans, in contrast, celebrated wildly after a victory that was almost beyond their wildest expectations.
Liverpool's recent resurgence has been characterised by high-tempo openings that have put opponents under instant pressure - and they were at it again in the early stages at a vibrant Anfield.
Dirk Kuyt almost gave Liverpool the perfect start after two minutes when his powerful shot on the turn was deflected inches wide off Ivanovic, but the Kop did not have long to wait to celebrate.
This time Kuyt was the creator with a clever flick that released Alvaro Arbeloa on the right-flank, and when he delivered an inviting cross Torres was on hand to sweep a comprehensive finish low past Petr Cech.
Chelsea, with a chequered Champions League history at Anfield, wasted the opportunity to respond immediately when Salomon Kalou sent Drogba clear in the area, but Liverpool keeper Reina raced out to make a vital block.
Hiddink had pledged to send out his side in attacking frame of mind, and Chelsea were as good as their coach's word, with Malouda then firing inches wide with Reina beaten.
Torres was an electrifying presence once more, and he was too quick for Frank Lampard when he swooped to rob the England man after 25 minutes, only to send a curling effort just off target.
It was a remarkably open game, with both sides committed to attack, and Drogba was guilty of another miss when he should have restored equality.
The Ivory Coast striker got on the wrong side of Jamie Carragher as Michael Ballack played a ball into the area, but after stumbling and then regaining control Drogba blazed wildly over the top with only Reina to beat.
Chelsea got the equaliser, and the away goal, they deserved, six minutes before the interval when Liverpool's long-time weakness at defending set-pieces surfaced again.
Malouda's corner was a routine affair, but Ivanovic was able to escape from the attentions of three Liverpool defenders to turn a header beyond Reina.
Second leg will be very, very difficult - Benitez
Kuyt should have scored Liverpool's second immediately, but Cech came to Chelsea's rescue as Liverpool looked poised to regain their advantage.
The second half began as an explosive first ended, with Carragher making a desperate clearance off the line from Drogba and Torres shooting just over the top after finally breaking the shackles of Chelsea's defence.
Terry was then ruled out of next week's return leg for a clumsy challenge on Reina - but it was the last piece of bad news for Chelsea.
They swiftly delivered two deadly blows to take a stranglehold on the tie and leave Anfield, so used to success on these nights, collectively stunned.
Ivanovic could barely believe his luck when he was given time and space in the penalty area once more to head another corner, this time from Lampard, powerfully past Reina.
And five minutes later Chelsea were in dreamland when Drogba finally hit the target, sliding home Malouda's cross from close range past a badly-exposed Reina.
Chelsea continued to threaten on the break as Liverpool pressed to little or no effect - and the final whistle brought confirmation of success for Hiddink's tactical masterclass and bitter disappointment for Anfield.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio (Dossena 75), Kuyt, Lucas (Babel 79), Alonso, Riera (Benayoun 67), Gerrard, Torres. Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Agger, Ngog.
Goals: Torres 6.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Ashley Cole, Kalou, Ballack, Essien, Lampard, Malouda, Drogba (Anelka 79). Subs Not Used: Hilario, Carvalho, Belletti, Mancienne, Mikel, Deco.
Booked: Kalou, Terry.
Goals: Ivanovic 39, 62, Drogba 67.
Ref: Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark).