Luis Suarez dealt a huge double blow to Chelsea's Barclays Premier League title hopes after inadvertently ending John Terry's comeback and snatching a 1-1 deserved draw for Liverpool.
Terry looked set to enjoy a dream return to action after his domestic four-match racism ban when he powered the European champions ahead from a corner at Stamford Bridge.
But the Blues captain then collided accidentally with the man at the centre of football's other race scandal, forcing him off on a stretcher, with Suarez going on to equalise for Liverpool and almost steal victory.
The draw prevented Chelsea from climbing back into second place as they recorded their third league game without a win to lie three points behind Manchester United.
The home support may have turned up expecting another Stamford Bridge goal-fest, having witnessed 30 in the previous five games here.
But having shipped 14 goals in their last seven matches, Chelsea appeared to adopt a more conservative approach against a Liverpool side who recalled virtually all their available big guns but persevered with their experiment of playing three at the back.
They certainly had plenty of the ball early on, but the Blues' counter-attacking approach almost paid off in the sixth minute when Joe Allen lost possession to Oscar, who was threaded in by Eden Hazard only to lift the ball over the crossbar.
Liverpool, who had won on their previous three visits to Stamford Bridge, continued to probe but their defence went AWOL from Chelsea's first corner in the 20th minute.
Terry was allowed to dart untracked to the near post and duly powered home Juan Mata's delivery.
Another lightning Chelsea break from the lively Hazard saw Fernando Torres' shot parried by Brad Jones straight to the Belgian, who could not control his volley.
Nuri Sahin dragged wide at the other end before a nightmare moment for Terry and Chelsea 10 minutes before half-time.
Terry gifted the ball to Steven Gerrard and got back to make a tackle on Suarez, who fell on his right leg, leaving him in agony.
After several minutes of treatment on his knee, Terry was forced to concede his comeback was over and was carried off on a stretcher with his head in his hands, manager Roberto Di Matteo offering a consoling word before he disappeared down the tunnel.
Gary Cahill replaced Terry with the atmosphere inevitably flattening until the fourth minute of stoppage-time when Mata's superb run was marred by a rushed finish that was so out of character.
Liverpool had clearly been told to up the aggression at the break but they repeatedly took it too far.
Allen was rightly booked for bundling over Torres and the fit-again Glen Johnson followed for obstructing Oscar, whose free-kick saw Jones produce a brilliant reflex save from Torres' header.
In the chaos that followed, Gerrard hurt his left knee trying to prevent Torres reaching the rebound and Mikel produced an airshot from barely eight yards.
Liverpool hauled off Sahin for Suso as they abandoned their back three and briefly had Chelsea under pressure before Torres went close to prodding in Ryan Bertrand's cross.
Mikel - who must surely end his five-year goal drought so attacking has he become - nearly got on the end of a Mata free-kick after Gerrard was cautioned for tripping Oscar.
But Liverpool's substitution paid off 17 minutes from time when Suso's corner was flicked on by Jamie Carragher and Suarez nodded home from point-blank range.
Chelsea came straight back at them but the visitors were defending manfully and Di Matteo wasted little time throwing on Wednesday's matchwinner, Victor Moses, for Oscar.
Liverpool looked just as capable of snatching victory and Mikel was booked for the latest in a series of clumsy tackles before Torres was replaced by Daniel Sturridge.
Suso shanked wide when well-placed, Suarez tried his luck from the halfway line and Ivanovic powered over a header.
Suarez would have won it for Liverpool after racing clear onto Enrique's ball but for a vital challenge from Cech.
And after Hazard blasted narrowly wide, Cech came to Chelsea's rescue again in stoppage-time by keeping out Enrique's powerful near-post shot.