That title just seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? Five years on, and I still can’t get used to the fact that the first trip to Wembley in the FA Cup is in the semifinals and not the finals. I understand the need for the FA to cover the cost of the giant spending spree that was the new Wembley, but something still feels odd. But I digress.
This is all about the FA Cup Final against our wonderful foe of recent seasons, the mighty Liverpool. We have probably seen them in more cup competitions than I care to mention, and ended up with a mixed bag of results. This result, however, should be one that favors the Blues, especially given the affinity that the club has for this competition.
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo will have fond memories of this competition. He won the FA Cup twice as a Chelsea player, scoring the fastest goal at the old Wembley (43 seconds against Middlesbrough in 1997) and scoring the winning goal in the 2000 FA Cup final against Aston Villa. The Italian will be attempting to lead the Blues to hoisting the FA Cup for the fourth time in just six years.
On the other side, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish broke the club’s barren spell without silverware by winning the Carling Cup back in March. Until that time, captain Steven Gerrard had not lifted any major silverware since winning the FA Cup back in 2006.
The next drought may start because of Liverpool’s indifferent form over the season. Suffice it to say, 8th place in the Premier League is just about where they should be this season.
The biggest reason for their poor form is that they cannot stop conceding goals.
One way to improve league position is to simply stop opponents from scoring. That hasn’t happened for the Reds this season. They are conceding, on average, around a goal a game this season, while scoring, on average, just over a goal a game.
That defensive record is great for cup competitions, which is why they’ve reached two finals, but it’s not particularly conducive to sustaining league form.
Part of the issue stems from the center back pairing. Dalglish must choose from one of three center backs: Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, or Daniel Agger. Sometimes the decision makes itself, as Agger has missed time due to injury, but the selection isn’t easy because none of the three are particularly mobile defenders.
This problem is made more difficult because Liverpool don’t play with a true holding midfielder and either deploy the third CB at RB, or they simply play Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, the former not being a particularly great defender.
Given their issues at CB, Di Matteo has a difficult striker decision to make. For me, it’s rather easy. Pick Didier Drogba.
Di Matteo said in his pre-match press conference that he had a difficult decision to make on who starts up front, but as I mentioned in my Newcastle preview, Drogba should be the one to get the call.
For the Ivorian, life at Wembley has been great. He’s scored in practically every match he’s played there and netted the match-winning goal in every FA Cup final and semifinal that he’s played at the home of English football.
In addition, he’s been the absolute nightmare of the Liverpool central defenders over the years, bullying each and every one of them into submission. In fact, at times, Carragher and Skrtel have taken to simply trying to wrestle the big man down.
The decision is also made easier because of Fernando Torres form against his former club in the previous two times that he’s met them. Since he transferred to Chelsea in January 2010, his two matches against them have not resulted in wins. But more than that, he’s not had the look of a player that really wants the challenge of beating his former club. He’s almost looked stressed to be out there.
Regardless if that’s the case, I still pick Drogba.
Speaking of expensive strikers, Andy Caroll might be a bigger waste of money for Liverpool.
Liverpool supporters mock the £50M that we bought Torres for, but they have their own £35M albatross that sits on the bench and roams about the pitch.
Interestingly, Carroll actually has a worse scoring record than Torres, 8 goals in 44 appearances this season. What magnifies that poor record is that Liverpool don’t have any natural strikers besides Carroll, so while he struggles to score goals, the finishing has to come from either the midfield or out wide.
Making matters worse, he’s forced Luis Suarez to play, what I feel is, out of position, and the goal returns show just that.
Luis Suarez is not a striker, but he’s forced to play there.
Despite the antics, the diving, and the overall attitude, Suarez is a class player. However, I think he’s miscast as a striker, despite being Liverpool’s leading scorer with 17 goals.
His goal total may be fine, but he’s created almost 3 times as many chances, but failed to put them away, sometimes in rather spectacular and unbelievable fashion. I’ve felt, from watching him at Ajax, that he’s a perfect support striker, playing behind a main striker and creating space for both himself and his partner because of how well he moves with and without the ball.
As a lone striker, I think he’s a lot less dangerous because he wants to have the ball at his feet and run at the defence. The issue is that he’s not strong enough physically to do that against two CBs without someone to help him; hence, the falling over and looking for fouls.
Ideally, he’d partner Carroll, but Carroll’s lack of form, and what is coming in point number five is what creates the problems for him.
Liverpool supporters will probably slate me for this, but I think Steven Gerrard is more harm than good at this point.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m not thinking in a biased way. Arrigo Sacchi, manager of the legendary 1980s Milan sides, once said that Gerrard “lacks what I call knowing-how-to-play football,” and that he was “a great footballer, but not a great player.” the problem with Gerrard is that he’s a bit one-dimensional in his thinking and in his positional play. Inherently, he only knows how to play at full speed and sometimes lacks the ability to change the tempo of the game, and I think positionally, does not have a set position, unless the team is built around him.
When you look at Gerrard, the question is, how do you play him? He has all the skills in the world, but he lacks the awareness to play in a deeper central midfield role because he can’t position himself to compress the lines between himself and his defence. If you play him in the hole behind the striker, he doesn’t do well at finding the spaces between the opponent’s lines, and requires a player deeper to distribute from midfield, and a striker who works the channels and links with the pass.
The setup that worked for him was with Xabi Alonso and Torres, yet, Adam/Henderson and Suarez/Carroll are none of them in the same ilk. Without players to make space for him, Gerrard can be marked out of the match, as we’ve shown with “Makelele role” players.
Personally, I feel that this cup final is there for us. I don’t really feel that Liverpool are a terribly good team, and I think the league table shows their inconsistency. Even more true than in recent years, the fact that Liverpool are a side that if you set out to stop Gerrard/Suarez, they will struggle to score.
However, I do believe that their cup form is because they are capable of raising their game in a single-match scenario.
No score predictions from me, but come on you Blues!