LONDON: No clubs have met as often over the last 20 years as Liverpool and Chelsea and the Blues made that familiarity pay off with a goal in each half from Ramires and Drogba for a 2-1 win in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
Chelsea played superbly for an hour then clung on to secure a fourth Cup win in six seasons after Liverpool charged forward after the inspiration of a comeback goal from substitute Andy Carroll. England leftback Ashley Cole thus collected a record seventh FA Cup-winner’s medal.
The clubs’ 31st meeting in the modern era in all competitions was taking place, coincidentally, on the same day they should have been meeting in the Premier League. That fixture has been pushed over into the next week but it might as well as have been light years away for all the interest as players and fans concentrated on one of football’s great showpiece occasions.
Liverpool’s ambition was to add a gloss to a disappointing league season by adding a second trophy after their League Cup win earlier this spring; Chelsea kicked off aware that they have a further target in sight, the Champions League later this month. They will head for Munich and Bayern in excellent spirit after the togetherness evidenced at Wembley for the second time in a month.
Brazilian midfielder Ramires will miss Munich through suspension but his determination to make impression on this final was clear in the 11th minute. He seized on a perfect through pass from official man-of-the-match Juan Mata, outpaced Jose Enrique and thumped a low angled shot past Pepe Reina on the keeper’s near, left-hand post.
Chelsea looked more composed and cohesive as Liverpool stuttered and stumbled in their attempts to pull their game together. The Reds’ start was reminiscent of their slow entry into the semi-final against Everton when they raised their game only in the second half.
Even so they might have snatched a surprise equaliser in the 14th minute when they broke into the Chelsea box on rare occasion and Craig Bellamy’s drive was blocked just in front of the goal-line by Brane Ivanovic. The Chelsea defender – also suspended from the Champions League Final – did not appear to know much about the incident but he had luck on his side.
There was a chasm of difference between the teams in midfield. Chelsea had more energy and – through the darting Mata – more craft and class. Liverpool forged forward in the closing stages of the first half but without threatening serious danger.
That failure to recover proved fatal when Didier Drogba scored a second for Chelsea in the 51st minute. A superb reverse pass from Frank Lampard set up the Ivorien for his remarkable eighth Wembley cup goal – a record four in four FA Cup Finals, three in League Cup Finals.
Liverpool brought on Carroll for Jay Spearing and Chelsea enjoyed, briefly, the extra midfield space they were thus allowed.
But just when their fans must have been dreaming of a repeat of the five-goal semi-final thrashing of Tottenham so Jose Bosingwa was caught in possession and, when the ball ricocheted into the penalty box, Carroll danced nimbly around Ivanovic and thumped his shot into the roof of the net.
The temperature of the match changed. Liverpool piled forward and Chelsea suddenly appeared to be feeling the weight of matches and pressure and expectation. Liverpool played it simple, feeding the wings and looking for Carroll’s head. The tactic may have been old-fashioned but it was enough to rattle the Blues.
Liverpool had to keep chasing the game as the clock ran down. With 12 minutes to go Dirk Kuyt replaced the surprising muffled Bellamy. Chelsea claimed a goal when Cech tipped a Carroll header against the underside of the bar but TV replays showed that the ball did not cross the goal-line.
Martin Skrtel could not take advantage of a half-chance as Liverpool pressed on, forcing four corners . . . but all in vain.
Chelsea: Cech – Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole – Mata (Malouda 90), Ramires (Meireles 74), Mikel, Lampard, Kalou – Drogba.
Liverpool: Reina – Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Jose Enrique – Henderson, Gerrard, Spearing (Carroll 55), Downing – Bellamy (Kuyt 78), Suarez.
Referee: P Dowd.
= = = = = = = = =