We have waited literally all-season for this – a victory in a big game.
It was scrappy, it was mistake-filled, but it was a win, a 20-million pound prize. We’re in the Champions League next season and we proved we deserved to be.
Thank you to Desailly, Gallas, Petit, Lampard and Gronkjaer, who scored a goal worthy of winning the rich prize on offer. They made us forget Ranieri’s huge gamble in leaving out Zola to give Gudjohnson and Hasselbaink a chance to recreate last season’s magic. They didn’t, but victory means our manager will face a long summer of questions.
Chelsea came out and harried a Liverpool team that looked uncomfortable with no time to dwell on the ball. This was not the mesmerising one-touch football we associate with other great Chelsea victories, but the gritty hard work instilled by Ranieri.
It all looked so different in the first 10 minutes when Owen brought a good save from Cudicini at his near post and Hyppia put away a free header. Liverpool had taken the lead and you feared now a typical scouse defensive performance with Owen and Baros ready to feast on an over-committed, desperate Chelsea.
But Desailly scored with a superb header from a Gronkjaer lob after a free kick had been half-cleared.
Two goals in the opening quarter of an hour was not what we expected. The players were feeling the tension of a cup final and passes were going to opponents with regularity. Then a moment of brilliance from Gronkjaer, collecting the ball out on the right, he moved in to the angle of the area and fired a low left-footed swerver that went in the far corner leaving Dudek no chance. Three half-chances and three goals. For the rest of the half, we were rarely troubled, the only concern being on corners and free kicks with Hyppia up there, but we managed to get them all away.
For the last 20 minutes of the first half, Desailly was really favouring his back after a hard fall and a look at the subs bench showed the trouble we would have been in had he not been able to resume in the second half. But he came out and played a captain’s game, superbly assisted by Gallas, the two centre-backs intercepting virtually everything directed towards Owen and Baros.
Liverpool rang the changes bringing on Heskey, Berger (who has been missing virtually all year) and Cheyrou. All this achieved was almost total midfield domination by Chelsea who looked likely to score each time they broke. Cudicini was under no pressure and then with 15 minutes to go dropped the clanger of the season. He dropped a simple ball above his head and Baros swept the loose ball into the goal. Disaster, except the marvellous linesman spotted Baros had handled the ball. TV replays confirmed the decision. Melchiot nearly put the game away when his shot from the edge of the area was brilliantly touched onto the inside of the post by Dudek. It didn’t matter, Zola came on to display his incredible footwork and Chelsea never looked likely to wilt. Liverpool’s frustration was summed up by Gerrard who showed again his thuggish side with an unbelievably nasty tackle on Le Saux with the ball two yards away. The ref gave him a second yellow, but it should have been a straight red.
All that was left was for the PA to play Blue is the Colour over and over as Chelsea players danced around the pitch and the fans roared. All that was missing was a trophy. Perhaps next year?