Never have four words gone together better: “Didier Drogba” and “Wembley Stadium”. Chelsea’s talisman striker became the first player in history to score in four different FA Cup Finals, sealing Chelsea the historic trophy in the 31st meeting between these two sides since 2004. Chelsea, for all the league uncertainty this year, have won this competition four times in the last six years. Dominance.
It could have been different. Liverpool could have become the first team to achieve the Cup double in over a decade. But Chelsea had statistics on their side too, having only lost one of their last 33 FA Cup matches (excluding shootouts). Some remarkable stat.
Ashley Cole now has seven FA Cup medals, John Terry has lifted it the most times as captain (4), whilst Cech continues his magnificent run of having never lost an FA Cup match.
Even if some routed for Liverpool, their only real hope was potential fatigue in Chelsea. Having now played 7 games in 21 days, including Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Barcelona twice, there was a real chance of weariness.
The dilemma, too, must have been put to Roberto Di Matteo, who joins a special posse to have won the Cup both as a player and as a manager. Fernando Torres or Didier Drogba to start? The former has scored (7) or assisted (4) more goals than any other Chelsea player under Roberto Di Matteo. Or does he go the Ivorian, who has scored in all five of his domestic cup final appearances for Chelsea. In the end, the interim manager went for the latter.
And how it paid off. After a nervous first few minutes, Chelsea’s counter-attacking competence reaped its first reward. Juan Mata was not closed down by Spearing, and his lovely through-ball to Ramires meant the Brazilian was one-on-one with Reina. The shot was poor, Reina too at fault, not covering his near post, but Chelsea did not care one bit.
Dalglish, who clearly had set out to stifle Ramires and Mata, would have to tinker and show his tactical nous.
Liverpool looked to immediately equalise, but Ivanovic was at the right place to block a Bellamy shot. That aside, the early goal seemed to settle Chelsea, who were looking more dangerous on the break.
Drogba could have scored earlier when he was lining up to shoot, but was denied at the crucial moment by Luis Suarez.
Not needing to press, it was Chelsea’s turn to defend, happy to play safe and on the counter-attack, as has served Chelsea so well of late. Liverpool’s threats in Downing and Bellamy were limited, and with Suarez dropping deep to just be involved, it was a fairly standard shift for the Blue back-line.
Liverpool looked in vain to restore parity, and as the half wore on, bookings were made, first to Mikel, then Agger, as Chelsea went into the dressing room one-up.
After the break, Chelsea continued to use the counter-attacking threat they possess. In Cole, who mas making his 250th appearance for the club, and Ramires, who became the first Brazilian to ever score in an FA Cup Final, Chelsea had some of the fastest legs on the pitch.
Gerrard, who too was subdued, made a darting run into the box, only to meet Terry and Ivanovic. The penalty appeals were half-hearted and desperate.
Chelsea went up immediately, and Mikel found Lampard. The vice-captain then played a lovely ball to Drogba. The Ivorian took his time to pick his spot into Reina’s corner. He loves Wembley, and Wembley was sent into delirium after he doubled Chelsea’s advantage.
Spearing’s replacement was Carroll as Dalglish looked to switch things, and the Englishman, so maligned of late, proved to be a sticking point for Chelsea’s defence, harrying Ivanovic all evening.
And he was to half Liverpool’s deficit. Bosingwa dispossessed Downing, and when the Portuguese dallied on a ball he just had to lump upfield, Downing won it back. Carroll swiveled Terry and blasted into the roof of the net to put Liverpool right back in it.
Then came the half of Liverpool dominance. The complexion of the match changed completely: Chelsea looked nervous, Liverpool had the momentum.
Chelsea would have been content, however, in seeing Johnson and Gerrard resort to long-range volleys.
And then came the talking point of the match, the defining point. Suarez lifted a ball to Carroll, whose header had real power and was from point-blank range. Somehow, Cech managed to get a hand on it, and, with the help of the crossbar and Ivanovic, Chelsea cleared.
Mass protest ensued, with Suarez livid at the decision, but perhaps after the semi-final debate, Phil Dowd and his linesman were absolutely spot on to not award the goal – it was simply inconclusive.
Liverpool continued to push, they had to. Time and again, Terry was there, Ivanovic was there. Mata, who was named man of the match, went off to be replaced by Malouda as Chelsea looked to shut up shop. And the shutting up worked.