Chelsea v Liverpool: The Blues' first European Final
To say I'm gutted as a LFC fan is not so much near the point, but not that far off. It was a battle, a good one, better than the other semi-final. More goals, and no telling of who would emerge more the winner.
To say Didier Drogba was on a mission after Rafael Benitez' comments wouldn't be, for me, truthful. He definitely had something to prove but he played as he usually plays, less than his customary man-of-the-match performances. His first goal was a severe blow, considering Pepe Reina had parried Salomon Kalou's shot and three Liverpool defenders were present. But the acuteness for Drogba to strike his shot and squeeze it past Reina at the keeper's near post seemed to be a strike of fortune. Those shots usually fizzle away off the post, defender or the keeper blocks it. This time it went in.
Liverpool were much better second half, almost as if Chelsea had stepped back and invited them on. Yossi Benayoun dragged the ball from the right inwards and fed Fernando Torres, who poked in the equaliser of immense proportions. It is Torres who should have been awarded the PFA Young Player Of The Year, his first in the English Premier League.
The more it went on, the more I cried for the likes of Ryan Babel and Peter Crouch to come on, having already used Sami Hyypia to replace Martin Skrtel. We were in the ascendancy and the chances were there for us to further puncture Chelsea but it wouldn't function. I felt we would score and hold them to 1-1 and extra time. Then my heart sank as first Nicolas Anelka shot then Michael Essien and Chelsea were 2-1 up, only to be ruled out for offside with Drogba considered impeding Reina's vision. Tough call.
Yet Chelsea kept up the attack and were awarded a penalty, rightly so. Hyypia fouled Michael Ballack, no dive, no feigning, clear penalty. Frank Lampard back in the team after a tragic week stepped up to deposit the killing, established 2nd goal from the spot. We had it to climb again. Torres was substituted for Babel, and with Jermaine Pennant on for Benayoun, Crouch was no longer an option.
Tiredness, lapse of concentration, and a reliance on the linesman that was incorrect, John Arne Riise felt Anelka was offside, the former Bolton man went on to deliver a cross that Drogba, despite having two defenders around him, snapped up with one sharp clinical touch past Reina's near post again. the first half of extra time came to a close.
Second half, a quick fifteen minutes, produce a Liverpool wave seeking something of a glimpse of a miracle. Babel gathered in the centre of the Chelsea half and let fly a shot from 25yards that deceived Petr Cech and gave Liverpool the faintest of hopes of a comeback. But likewise with Chelsea in the first cup encounter of the League Cup, we were 3-1 down to come back to 3-2. And likewise in the 2007 European Cup Final, we were two down to come back with one goal, one goal the constant denial.
I felt Chelsea earned this passage into their first Champions League Final in their history, no complaints. They pushed, we battled, they pushed harder and we battled back in vain. the main difference was of course he who was criticised. As right, or wrong, as that maybe, such words before a big game, or even any game, should have remained diplomatic or silent. Remembering how Jose Mourinho said "[Liverpool] play at home and 99.9% of Liverpool fans will be thinking they are in the final but they aren't and it will be difficult for them", after the first leg at Stamford Bridge back then came to haunt him afterwards?
As for Liverpool, they were brave, just not tenacious enough in front of Chelsea's goal, and had we been so we really would have deserved going through. Had it not been for Skrtel, I would have looked to establish Kuyt off for Pennant, Benayoun goes left, and then bring on Babel for Alonso, Babel on the left wing, leaving Benayoun behind Torres, finally bringing on Crouch for Benayoun. Crouch is a known problem for Chelsea and has scored mostly when he plays, why he was not available to bring on is beyond me.
Overall, I discussed this with others and concluded that the difference thus far between the top three and Liverpool is that they have the luxury of players who individually can bring something into the game to their team's advantage more times than not. We lack such numbers of players. We have Babel, Torres, Gerrard, Crouch as those who can bring something from little to make that break, that leeway to a goal. Four players out of eleven on a regular basis.
Compare that to Man Utd who have Christiano Ronaldo, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, on occasion the likes of Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves (superb at interim right back) and a stern tough quick back four of Patrice Evra, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, well positioned to defend. Chelsea have Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou, Didider Drogba, Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nicolas Anelka (mainly from his Bolton days), Michael Essien, and a stern central partnership in Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry, with a reliable Paulo Ferreira.
Arsenal use Emmanuel Adebayor, Nicklas Bendtner, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Aleksander Hleb, Eduardo, then a stern defence consisting of Kolo Toure, William Gallas and Gael Clichy, even Armand Traore. Arsenal just need another right back and use Toure and Gallas as their regular central defenders.
I believe Hyypia, as dependable as he has been for the club since his arrival, is too slow now to remain. Maybe Riise needs to move on, I find Alvaro Arbeloa as reliable as Ferreira, Skrtel can improve with time, and we still await Daniel Agger to return. With Fabio Aurelio needing to further sharpen up, we need another left and right back, either employ Kuyt up front or release him, release Andriy Voronin, and bring in a couple of wingers who are high class. We should endeavour to keep Crouch, look to perhaps the likes of David Villa, Ricardo Quaresma, Lyon's Karim Benzema.
We have some young blood to brig through which will take time but for now we want stamina, flair and the ability to carry-things-on-your-own players brought in and some players leaving. There are too many players who provide good football at times, sharp football on occasion, but neither of both regularly enough. This is why we seem to fall out of the title race and not be in there towards the end of the season. It is about time Benitez changed up his Rafalution and incorporate a sharper, different, attacking style of football to bring us further from where we are now. That is when we will win the league.
Well done, Chelsea FC, thoroughly deserved it.