Saturday, May 5, 2012
Chelsea the history men once more
John Brewin, Wembley stadium
The managers may change but the story remains the same. Liverpool had hoped to finish the season known as the 'cup team', but a glance at the record books will point to Chelsea's resumption of that role in English football.
Chelsea's four FA Cups in six years have come under the leadership of four different managers. Stability is to be found elsewhere in their ranks. Didier Drogba became a history man, the first player to score in four finals. John Terry has now lifted the famous trophy four times for the same club, another record. Ashley Cole meanwhile, outstrips them all, having won it seven times, though three of those came as an Arsenal player.
It says much about the turbulent nature of Chelsea since 2003 that four other bosses have been in charge under Roman Abramovich and failed to win the competition. However, another staple of the club's recent successes in the FA Cup is the latest manager to lift it: Roberto Di Matteo twice scored goals that won the FA Cup for Chelsea and now emulates Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti.
So Liverpool were fighting men with destiny on their side. And they left it too late to offer them a threat. Chelsea had a two-goal lead by the time Liverpool woke up to the occasion. Andy Carroll almost rescued it, but was not quite enough in a defeat that will only throw a poor Premier League position into sharper focus. A Carling Cup alone is not enough to justify a £100-million-plus transfer outlay.
Kenny Dalglish could offer that his team had fought hard, and with some justification. But that does not excuse a performance that did not arrive until hands were forced by Chelsea's second goal.
Dalglish accepted such a verdict. "You cannae lose a two-goal lead, and expect to come back from that," he said.
In a season where he has hardly looked happy too often, Dalglish's face was a picture of particular desolation. As opposed to his usual defiance, an air of resignation was apparent - to defeat at the very least. Questions must surely be asked about his future at the helm at Liverpool. Fenway Sports Group may be plucking up the courage to consider Dalglish's position if indeed he does not choose to take his own leave. A late surge may have salvaged some pride but it was not converted into the silverware that Liverpool Football Club has been centred around since the 1960s. Season 2011-12 will not be remembered for nearly enough positives at Anfield.
Until the late show, Chelsea looked to have kept much in reserve for the Champions League final in Munich. As it was, they left the field knowing they had been in a contest, with their fans anxiously willing on the clock to 95 minutes. Ultimately, the cup was won by Petr Cech's clawing away of Carroll's goal-bound header onto the cross bar in the 82nd minute. Liverpool players claimed the ball may have been behind the line before Cech got to it, but this was not to be a Martin Atkinson moment. TV pictures were so inconclusive as to cast doubt on the concept of video evidence itself. No conclusion means no goal could ever be given.
Dalglish was sportsmanlike about such a key decision. "Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't," he said. "I thought it went in but if it hasn't then give the officials what they deserve, the credit."
Liverpool had found themselves in a deserving position too. Chelsea's first arrived when Ramires burst through a Liverpool defence that had opened up all too easily. Jose Enrique was shaken off by the powerful running of the Brazilian and Pepe Reina continued what he admits has been a season rather too full of mistakes by being beaten at his near post.
As against Barcelona, Ramires had been a game-changer. It was a markedly similar run to that in the Nou Camp, though this time the finish did not have to be quite so spectacular. And unlike Everton, Liverpool were not playing a team in blue with an inferiority complex on an unfamiliar stage.
Liverpool needed Steven Gerrard or Luis Suarez to dig them out. As it was, neither star name made enough of an impression when they were required to do so. That Jay Spearing had initially been his team's prime midfield performer said much, yet he erred when shown a clean pair of heels by Lampard in the move that set up Didier Drogba's 52nd minute goal. He was soon a sacrificial victim when Dalglish threw Andy Carroll into the mix.
When a Newcastle United player, Carroll was sometimes compared to Didier Drogba and while such a comparison would once have seemed laughable, his 64th minute strike could have been from the Ivorian's playbook. In shaking off John Terry and then crashing home into the roof of the net he confirmed a similar liking for Wembley to Drogba; this strike followed a semi-final-winning goal against Everton.
But this was not to be his day. It was Chelsea and Drogba's instead. They have bigger fish to fry in Bavaria but could enjoy this moment too.
Di Matteo was soon to be found batting away questions about his suitability for a permanent role as Chelsea manager as "irrelevant". "The boss will make the decision," he said of Abramovich. "I am fine with it. I'm a very fortunate person so it's not an issue."
Any decision on Di Matteo's fate as permanent boss is set to be decided by events in a fortnight's time in the Allianz Arena. Winning the FA Cup will likely not be enough. After all, such an achievement is not so special if you are a Chelsea manager. And that is a signal of the tight grip that the club has on the competition.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Branislav Ivanovic. John Terry will be the headline figure missing in Munich but his defensive partner here may be missed just as much. A series of timely interceptions meant Liverpool were held at bay when panic stations were being manned.
CHELSEA VERDICT: They played on the break and sat deep throughout. It was effective when both goals were supplied by quick attacks from deep positions. They just held on as Liverpool pushed for an equaliser but received reward for being the better team for the majority of the match.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Their first half performance mirrored that of their semi-final with Everton, and they hardly looked much improved after the break. It took conceding a second to produce concerted effort which was praiseworthy, but not quite enough to avert disappointment
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