No matter what any other team’s fans say when they’re not in them, FA Cup Finals still have that aura of greatness about them. Football’s oldest cup competition, where any team in England (and some from Wales) get a chance for a dream. Of course not many get to go all the way, but it is always great to see a supposed minnow take on a heavy weight and make it through to the next round, and with it some financial bonus that is critical to these teams. Liverpool have won the competition 7 times in the past, but in recent years they have also seen themselves taken out of this competition by lower teams.
This year though, having seen so much press about not making it to Wembley in so many years (although cups were won during that time Wembley was out of commission), Liverpool found themselves going there 3 times in the space of a few months. This time they found themselves against Chelsea. Years ago, Liverpool vs Chelsea was just another game, but recent years has seen it rise to become on of “those” rivalries that seems to bring out the best in the players, and the worst in some fans. There was of course the 1 minute silence that some Chelsea fans decided to ignore, which was a disgrace:
Then there were the posters they put up yesterday about the “Justice for the 39”. I don’t like to see this at any club, including Liverpool (never enjoyed it when a small minority sings about the Munich air disaster for example).
You would think that given the above, along with them spending their way to recent victories, and tempting Torres and Meireles away from us, that the players would be up for such a game. You would think that the local lads would certainly be up for the big game just because it was Chelsea, and then there’s the small matter of this being a cup final. If you can’t be up to win for a cup final, especially one against a hated rival, then what is going to get you going? Is there a place for you in the team?
The game ended up being a perfect summary of our season. First of all, here we were in a final of a cup game. Why we have been able to “perform” in the cup, yet fail in the league is beyond me, but there you go. I know there needs to be consistency to win cup games, but the performances in some of the cup games this season has not been seen in so many league games. Then there was the awful slow start, followed by the upping of the tempo that showed the sort of football we can play; and of course there was the matter of another ball hitting the crossbar, although this time the anguish was over the milliseconds before it hit the bar.
No offence to the Chelsea team but I don’t think we lost to Chelsea in so much as we lost to ourselves. I’m sure plenty of Chelsea fans (at least the more sensible of them) will agree that they’ve played far better games than they did today. It was not like they ripped Liverpool apart. Sure they defended decently, but did they even not to work hard for that? Going forward, we were woeful. Downing and Enrique seemed to be having a personal battle to see who could get in a good position and then give it away under no pressure the most. Henderson again went missing most of the game, and Spearing once again just seemed out of his depth. Defensively we did reasonably well, except those two goals. If Chelsea had been on the sort of form they are capable of, we could so easily have been well and truly out of the game by half time.
With Spearing and Henderson so ineffective in the middle, Gerrard had to drop deeper. That meant that Suarez now became an isolated figure up front. Bellamy was rarely given the opportunity to race in behind his man, and way too many balls were being sent into the box, with the one man capable of benefiting, Andy Carroll, sat on the bench. Chelsea took the lead from a mistake from Spearing, and some awful defending from Enrique that allowed Ramires in on goal. He struck the ball well, but on other days with it being so close to him, you’d feel Reina might have done better.
It stayed that way until half time, and that was not too bad given the way we had played. Hopefully Kenny could get some fire under them, fix some issues and get them back on track. It was not to be, as Liverpool went out in the second half without much of an improvement. Once again Spearing played a part as Lampard went past him, and passed to Drogba. Skirtel gave him way too much time and space and that was all Drogba needed to give Chelsea a 2 – 0 lead.
Something had to change, and thankfully it did. Spearing came off for Carroll, and I think this is the formation I would prefer to see us play more often. Carroll up front, three behind him (Suarez, Bellamy, Downing), Gerrard in the middle orchestrating everything, one holding midfielder and a back 4. Once Lucas is back I expect that to be him in the holding midfield, but I can also see (with a solid back 4) Henderson and Gerrard doing that role well. Gerrard wouldn’t need to be always on the attack with 3 behind Carroll, and should Gerrard be injured (or in the longer run) Henderson would also fit in there perfectly.
Carroll immediately made an impact. It offered a different dynamic to the game, and made Chelsea have to think about two different outlets for Liverpool. No longer could they just stick two centre backs on Suarez and snuff out any attack, they now actually had to worry about those balls into the box. With Carroll on, and Liverpool playing a less negative system, they were able to batter the Chelsea goal for the last 25 minutes. Carroll gave Liverpool hope with his well taken goal, but there was still a lot to do.
There was, however, to be one last talking point. With 8 minutes to go, a great work from Suarez saw him cross it into Carroll, who powered his header goal wards. Liverpool fans every where cheered, Andy Carroll raced away, as did Luis Suarez to celebrate the equaliser but it was not given. Now a number of Liverpool fans have stated that this was a goal and that’s a fact. They point to the fact that Cech’s glove is so far behind the goal. However, the rule states the entire ball has to be over the line. That means the has to be daylight between the back end of the ball, and the edge of the white line closest to the goal. I personally don’t think it crossed the line. Sure you would think that with modern technology we could maybe get better camera angles. Maybe the FA don’t want us to have better camera angles in case another Spurs incident happened, however I still put this down to an immense save by Cech, much as it pains me to say it.
From the picture below, you can maybe see just over a third of the ball behind the post. Yes it’s not perfectly level, and the post is slightly thicker than the line, but there’s still a lot of ball that has to have fully crossed that line and I do not think it could have possibly done so.
Still, to bicker about whether it went in or not is futile. We did not lose the cup final from this moment. We lost this in the first 60 minutes where we failed to wake up. Had we faced a Chelsea team on their top form we could have been battered. I also do not agree with the fans that are blaming this solely on Kenny. It is way too easy for us to say Carroll should have started, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I personally think that the only thing Kenny got wrong was playing Spearing. However, maybe with Spearing out and Carroll in, we would have been overly attacking from the start, and Chelsea may have been forced into a better game. They may still have found the space that Kenny tried so hard to contain. With Lucas out, Spearing is our only holding midfielder, but unfortunately he just seems to be out of his depth too often. He gets praise for some fans for his terrier like approach, but by and large that is mostly ineffective when he’s behind his man.
Still disappointed as they are, Liverpool fans, the true ones anyway, will take heart in the fact that we can play good football; that there are signs of the team gelling; and that our strike partnership is starting to look like a potential legendary strike partnership. I still think we need another striker, because Carroll and Suarez cannot play every game; and I would like that striker to be a finisher/goal poacher type. As much as people seem to think we need a creator in midfield, I would actually counter that with, have a look at what we did in the first half, we got the ball into the box, but nobody was in there. A creator alone will not fix our problems. We could also do with either another defensive midfielder, or to maybe promote Connor Coady to the team.
With the injury Lucas suffered there is no telling a) whether he will be back at the same level he was or b) when it might happen again. If there is one thing that is certain, the current pressures of the game, and the exertions placed on those players, particularly those such as Lucas who is constantly battling with the opposition, means that there is always the risk of a repeat injury. Spearing has had numerous opportunities, and some minor flashes aside he has shown that he isn’t good enough. It may be that he just needs some more time and experience, but if that’s the case I would rather see him get that on loan at another club. We could maybe look to get another pacey winger, who can run at people, because Bellamy doesn’t have the ability to last the season, and we could do with somebody like that to unlock trickier defences. We do however have Sterling, and I’d rather see him given a bigger chance than to see money go on an unknown.
So now, for us at least, the season is all but over. Two more games to go through the motions, and maybe get 7th place away from Everton. All that’s left then is to hope our players come back from the Euros without picking up any injuries; and one or two decent signings. Disappointing season over all, but there was enough high points to not make it a disaster. Although we will have to start early next season, we are in Europe, and that at least means some more games to give some of the youngsters some valuable experience.