Chelsea lifted the FA Cup for the 4th time in 6 years to prove that the old guard have still got it – even if only as a great cup team, instead of realistic league title challengers. Chelsea and Liverpool lined up fairly similarly, but the difference was in midfield where several Liverpool players had poor games. Henderson, Downing and Spearing in particular will be players that Liverpool fans have been asking serious questions of, and did themselves no favours at Wembley.
Chelsea came out in their familiar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Drogba up top supported by Kalou who played high on the left and Ramires on the right of midfield, Mata occupied the number 10 position, although as a natural left footer he drifted towards the left wing to double up with Kalou quite often. Lampard and Mikel provided the beef in midfield, Ivanovic played next to Terry in central defence, Cahill’s injury giving another start to Bosingwa at right back.
Liverpool lined up in a similar fashion, but whereas Chelsea had a converted striker running the left wing, Liverpool used Craig Bellamy on the right, and Stuart Downing occupied the left up against Bosingwa. In the centre, Gerrard was more withdrawn that his opposite number Juan Mata, and was backed up by Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing. Those two had particularly poor games, and this prevented Gerrard from getting forward as much as he would have liked in the first half, leaving Suarez to do a lot of chasing on his own. Jamie Carragher missed out on a starting place, Dalglish preferring the partnership of Skrtel and Agger at the heart of defence, and played with two attacking full-backs – Johnson on the right and Enrique on the left.
The game began with caution from both sides, Chelsea looking to attack down the left initially, and pressing high up the pitch – at certain times Drogba, Kalou and Mata were a line of three putting Liverpool’s defence under pressure. Drogba had an excellent game, getting plenty of change out of Skrtel early on in aerial duals, and enjoying close support from Mata and Kalou.
The first goal came from a sloppy pass by Jay Spearing. He squandered possession under light pressure – giving the ball away to man-of-the-match Mata, and as we’ve seen very often recently, Ramires’ lung-busting runs from deep make him a very dangerous player. Few can keep up with the spritely Brazilian at full tilt, but Enrique got it all wrong and seemed to be caught in two minds whether to try and match his run or cut him out. In the end he did neither, and Ramires’ smart finish wrong footed Reina. It was 1-0 in the flash of an eye, and as Chelsea proved against Barcelona they are a very tough team to break down, and once ahead are happy to soak up pressure and try to deal damage on the counter attack.
Liverpool tried to build patiently, but couldn’t link midfield to attack. Not for the first time, it was clear that they needed someone with a bit of nous in midfield to use possession wisely and allow Gerrard to focus on a more attacking role. Xabi Alonso is the man Liverpool miss the most, although even someone like Benayoun would have been of use here, just to provide a bit of guile in midfield. Henderson and Spearing were really very poor, and no match for Lampard and Mikel.
The teams went in at half-time, Liverpool wondering what on earth was going on, and Chelsea probably wishing that they’d got a few more goals in what was a dominant 45 minutes for them. Most thought that Dalglish had to make some kind of personnel change at half time, Liverpool were just not at the races at all, but they came out unchanged – but Henderson drifted out to the right a little more, and Bellamy came infield as Dalglish tried to bridge the gap between midfield and attack.
The second goal for Chelsea came quickly and easily. Again Spearing was found wanting, he was turned inside out by Lampard who slotted an incisive ball through to Drogba, who continued his fine Wembley form by slotting home his 8th goal in 8 appearances at the home of football. Drogba might not be a 20+ goals a season striker anymore, but if this is his final season in the blue of Chelsea, it’s a fine swansong and he proved again that he’s the man for the big occasions.
Ramires continued to torture Enrique on Cheslea’s right wing, and the Spaniard was getting beaten regularly and easily. Dalglish had to make a change. Given the desperate season he’s endured, many Liverpool fans would’ve groaned when they saw Plan B being trundled out on to the pitch – Andy Carroll on for the disappointing Spearing, but the big man has found some form in recent games, and produced what was surely his best performance of the season – and may just have played himself into Roy Hodgson’s England squad… maybe.
Predictably, Liverpool changed shape to give Carroll service, and as Chelsea had withdrawn into a defensive shell, the full backs pushed right up as Liverpool moved to a very attacking 4-4-2, which was almost a 2-4-4 as the game went on. Carroll provided a more direct route to Liverpool’s attacking, and showed great strength in his aerial battles, and also very good knock-downs for his midfielders, who finally got up to support.
The arrival of Carroll and his well taken goal gave Chelsea the jitters, it was a performance reminiscent of vintage 2010 Andy Carroll, he was unplayable at times. At that time spent in Liverpool’s nightclubs has clearly paid off as he danced around the ball sending John Terry one way then the other before powering in a fine finish.
Liverpool bombarded the Chelsea goal, and thought they had found the equaliser in what would’ve been another famous comeback for them, but officials correctly ruled that his header was just kept out by Petr Cech – a cup winning save if ever there was one.