Saturday’s FA cup final revealed a lot about modern football. It was the ultimate clash between historic and contemporary achievements; Chelsea have won three league titles, four FA cups and two league cups within the last ten years, while Liverpool still have an impressive 18 league titles and five European cups, a stunning record that the hoards of Liverpool fans would not let their blue cockney counterparts forget. For the neutrals perhaps it was not one of the most exciting cup finals compared with the likes of 2006 or 1986 but for those involved the only word to describe it would be nail biting, as both teams needed this to make up for below satisfactory league form.
Didier Drogba became the first player to score in four FA cup finals, a feat unachieved by many great strikers over the decades. His added a second to Chelsea’s tally after Ramires broke away, Agger and Enrique close behind him, to place the ball in the bottom corner of the net. The goal came after a mistake from Jay Spearing, Liverpool’s 23 year old defensive mid, who has been given several league starts this season due to his improving form. Unfortunately for him and Liverpool, Saturday wasn’t his day. He failed to hold up the ball in midfield and even gifted it to Chelsea as was the case with Ramires’ goal. However, his worse than average performance against Chelsea should not be seen as indicative of his season. Because of Spearing’s defensive instability Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s talismanic midfielder, was dragged deeper and deeper, at times resembling more of a classic holding midfielder. This can be seen as a key flaw in the Liverpool side on Saturday; Gerrard simply wasn’t free to pull apart Chelsea’s defence apart to make room for Suarez and Carroll to break forward or create chances, the fact that he played so deep was undoubtedly a waste of his attacking prowess.
Chelsea’s second was also a result of the ball being lost by Liverpool in midfield, as well as a beautiful Frank Lampard pass, giving Drogba his fourth FA cup final goal. Shortly after, in the 55th minute, Dalglish made an attacking change, bringing on Carroll for Spearing. This proved to be an inspired move as Carroll showed the sort of form seen at Ewood Park a month ago and tested Chelsea’s defence for the remainder of the game. Nine minutes later Carroll scored what can’t be termed a screamer unless by an avid Liverpool fan to put them back in the game and a goal away from equalising. His footwork leading up to it was clumsy but his run into the box showed class and drive, something that has been lacking from his earlier league performances. The goal came as the result of a passage of play down the left wing, a phenomena that, so familiar during the early days of the season, has been an increasing rarity lately.
Carroll, Liverpool’s £35m striker who has struggled to find form, may have gone some way to silencing his critics with several attempts on goal, some beautiful pass and move manoeuvres, a never say die attitude and, most importantly, a goal that gave Liverpool a glimmer of hope. After he scored Liverpool dominated but were unable to find the back of the net.
The most contentious moment has to be Carroll’s header that will be disputed for years to come. The massive striker thought he’d brought Liverpool level but interestingly his team mate Dirk Kuyt went to strike the ball a second time after Cech’s deflection, suggesting he didn’t think it crossed the line, unless he was simply displaying striking instinct. Whether it was over the line or not (and it didn’t appear to have been) it was an incredible save by the Czech keeper.
The Chelsea side lacked the flair they’ve displayed recently, with Liverpool dominating statistically (Damien Comolli are you watching). The redmen inched Di Matteo’s side in terms of possession, they held the ball up for 55% of the match with an 85.2% passing success rate. It is fair to say that Liverpool dominated in the second half, though this can be put down to Chelsea sitting deep and letting Liverpool come to them.
Even though it was a disappointing result for Liverpool the 12th man would surely be anyone’s man of the match. The Liverpool supporters did their team proud, Ramires and Drogba’s setbacks served only to spur them on, practically raising the roof at Wembley. And as they filed out after many stayed to watch Chelsea lift the cup there was not silence, there was singing. The fans who had made the five hour journey to Wembley on the 5th May proved that they would support their side through thick and thin, the true meaning of the Liverpool way.