The FA Cup final turned out to be quite drab after quite a big build-up. It was built up as the match between two legendary clubs who’d underperformed this season, two strikers out to prove their critics wrong, two midfield legends supposedly on their last legs. The men in blue from West London clinched their 7th title and a 3rd in 4 years after a match which only lived up to its expectations in the last half hour or so. And how did they do it?
1. Rolling In The Deep
As soon as the lineups were out, we saw that one team put out a predictable XI in a predictable formation. But Dalglish decided to play defensive and catch them out on the counter with Suarez and named a 4-5-1, with skipper Stevie Gerrard sitting deep. Gerrard who has a prowess of scoring from midfield – only bettered by his Chelsea counterpart – was made to hold the midfield together . A position, no doubt, he can play in due to his versatility; but it obviously is not the position which brings out the best in him. A serious threat when going forward, he was unable to make his darting runs into the final third mainly because he was to cover the defence and be accountable for them. In a dull first-half display from the Reds, he was a shining light – even though he dropped deeper than he would have liked. However, never one to complain, he endured on and kept the team going, even after the 2 goals with his good distribution and spot-on passing. Once Carroll came on, Liverpool started to play almost like 4-4-2, where Gerrard was given the freedom to go forward. And boy, how did that change the game? It only makes one wonder how the game would’ve turned out to be if the England striker had started and Dalglish had adopted an attacking mindset.
2. Warming Up
Liverpool seemed quite uninvolved in the opening exchanges and their midfield made a range of blunders before Jay Spearing was dispossessed in the middle of the park. Juan Mata was quick to release Ramires, who flew past one Spaniard, Jose Enrique who was too late, to slot home past another Spaniard – Reina – who was too early in his dive. This seemed to spark Liverpool back to life, and after that, they started creating chances by attacking and pressurizing the Chelsea defence, who kept the Reds out time and time again. One particularly spectacular chance fell to the Welshman Craig Bellamy, but Branislav Ivanovic made the vital block and it was yet another chance spurned. Chelsea, on the other hand, couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Drogba looked ambitious and started going for goal right from the kick off and Juan Mata made his deadly runs down the field and pin-point through balls. Ramires and Kalou provided the fresh energy needed down the flanks right from the start. Lamps and Mikel held the midfield together and the rearguard barely had a nervy moment in the first 10 minutes or so.
3. Creativity In The Middle
This was one element quite obviously missing from the Liverpool midfield. With Gerrard having to play deep, there was no source of creativity for the trickster upfront – Luis Suarez – to work with. Much was expected from Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing but both failed miserably. While Juan Mata was pulling the strings with his twinkling feet for Chelsea, the Liverpool midfield just looked lost for the majority of the first half. Downing caused a few issues for Bosingwa down the flank and he made the tackle that eventually led to the Liverpool goal, but that was all.
Liverpool really had no person to cross to or pass to in the box until Carroll’s introduction. Chelsea had their talisman, Didier Drogba, to whom they directed most of their passes and crosses and his commanding presence eventually led to his goal, after being put through by a brilliant defence-splitting pass from Frank Lampard. However, for Liverpool, Suarez could not stamp his authority and God knows why, kept drifting out. With the introduction of Carroll, Downing had someone to whom he could direct his crosses and Suarez dropped back a bit, feeding Carroll. Again, intriguing what would’ve happened if Carroll had started.
5. The Gatekeeper
In the end, it was the goalkeepers that truly changed the course of the game. A timing error by Reina and Ramires gave Chelsea an early advantage. A Gordon Banks-esque save by Cech and Carroll could not put Liverpool on equal terms. Both are of equally fantastic calibre but on the day, the Czech out-performed his Spanish counterpart who had an off-colour day, to say the least.
All in all, the game could’ve turned out to be a million other things and we can go on and on about what could’ve and should’ve happened, but it’s the 90 minutes on the day that matters. The Blue boys from London well and truly deserved it, for all they’ve been through this season. And, for a closing stat, Roberto Di Matteo has become one of 16 elites to have won the FA Cup both as a player and a manager.