Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda sent Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League as their second-half goals gave Carlo Ancelotti's side a deserved victory over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
The enigmatic Didier Drogba - who mixed theatrics with threat in an encounter that was competitive rather than compelling - won the battle of the strikers with Liverpool's Fernando Torres to make decisive contributions and set up Chelsea's win.
Drogba, who infuriated Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez with his antics when coming into contact with opposing defenders, set up former Liverpool striker Anelka for a simple close-range finish on the hour to break the deadlock.
And in injury time he made light of the presence of Jamie Carragher and Fabio Aurelio to slide in another cross for substitute Malouda to seal the win.
Chelsea boss Ancelotti's usually impassive mask slipped in a wild touchline celebration, acknowledging the significance of beating a Liverpool side expected to be a serious threat to their Premier League ambitions, plus the importance of reacting swiftly to the shock defeat at Wigan.
And it was all done without suspended keeper Petr Cech, with his replacement Hilario distinguishing himself when called upon.
For Liverpool and manager Benitez, defeat capped a disappointing week after they slumped against Fiorentina in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The Reds threatened only occasionally, with Torres subdued by a magnificent performance from Chelsea and England captain John Terry, who repelled any danger that came his side's way.
Substitute Yossi Benayoun missed the visitors' best chance, but that came after Malouda had doubled Chelsea's advantage, with Hilario also clawing away Steven Gerrard's 20-yard drive in the closing stages.
It was Liverpool's third league defeat of the season, eclipsing the number of losses they had in their entire campaign last term, and Benitez has much to ponder in the international break as they failed to rise to a vital occasion.
Emotions could not be more contrasting for counterpart Ancelotti, who will see his reputation at Stamford Bridge enhanced after the Blues ultimately out-manoeuvred their opponents.
Liverpool's midfield was strengthened by the return of Javier Mascherano after injury - and he played a crucial role in protecting his defence in a scrappy, niggly opening period.
Torres set the tone early on with a nasty challenge that floored Terry, then Michael Essien was fortunate not to connect with a reckless lunge at Mascherano, although the Argentine did himself little credit with a dramatic collapse.
The home side's best hope of a breakthrough looked to be via the aerial route, with Drogba and Anelka both having headers comfortably collected by Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina.
And Michael Ballack should have done better than head Deco's free-kick off target at the near post after he escaped the attentions of the Liverpool defence.
Chelsea had exerted a small measure of supremacy as the half wore on, but Liverpool's threat was still in evidence. Torres wasted a clear opportunity when he headed Dirk Kuyt's cross straight at Hilario.
And the stand-in keeper came to Chelsea's rescue on the stroke of half-time when he reacted late to Albert Riera's 30-yard free-kick but managed to dive low to his right to turn it around the post.
Frank Lampard had been a peripheral presence, but he made a crucial contribution as Chelsea took a lead they just about deserved on the hour.
He turned the tables on Mascherano by robbing the combative midfield man in possession and fed Deco. Deco in turn found Drogba, whose cross provided an open invitation for Anelka to turn a finish high past Reina from point-blank range.
It was Drogba at his menacing best, but the striker spent too much time reverting to his bad old ways, throwing himself to the ground - and staying there - even though contact had been minimal at best.
When he did stay on his feet he was, as always, a huge threat and Reina was grateful to see his angled low free-kick swerve narrowly wide from 25 yards.
The goal at least impressed on Liverpool the urgency of attempting to trouble the Chelsea goal, and Torres scuffed a presentable opportunity wide with 10 minutes left after Gerrard drove into the penalty area.
Drogba again demonstrated his power and threat as Chelsea wrapped up the points in injury time, dismissing the presence of Carragher and Aurelio to set up Malouda for the simplest of finishes.