After the 2-0 loss to Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday,Chelsea now has the same focus that Liverpool has had for a few months now. Only one thing matters for these two prestigious clubs as the calendar turns to May: Trophies
On Saturday, the two clubs will meet at Wembley for the FA Cup, a trophy that both clubs will look to take in order to justify their seasons. Currently, Chelsea sits in 6th in the Premier League, while Liverpool sits in the 8th spot, twelve points behind the Blues. Unless Chelsea win the final in Munich on the 19th, both teams are set to miss out on the Champions League next year. The domestic game is, therefore, of great importance for both clubs.
This game could have many implications that affect both teams in the near future. Roberto Di Matteo may need a trophy to secure the manager position next year, as billionaire owner Roman Abramovich continues to seek other options. Liverpool fans have become a bit restless at their squad, and the Carling Cup is the only thing that many consider a success this season (unless a top 10 finish counts as a success for a club like Liverpool). When the two teams step on the field on Saturday, the nerves of the entire season will unwind, and both teams will, hopefully, be going for glory.
As it stands, Chelsea is being deemed the favorites by many. Being a Chelsea fan, I can see why. But at the same time, I don’t know how so many people have written Liverpool off. This season alone, Liverpool is 2-0 against Chelsea, beating them twice at Stamford Bridge, nonetheless. Glenn Johnson scored an 87th minute winner on November 20th to grab Liverpool three points in the league, while a two-nil victory just nine days later sent Liverpool to the Carling cup semifinals. Although this was under Andre Villas-Boas’ reign for Chelsea, wins are wins. This time around, however, Di Matteo will be looking to tip the match in favor of the “Boys in Blue.”
I’m not a guy who likes to look at past history in order to judge what will happen in the present. I wouldn’t care, for example, if Liverpool had won their last 5 matches at Wembley (which they could have, but I just made that up for now). I also don’t care that Didier Drogba has something along the lines of seven goals in seven games at Wembley. It is a great venue, and a necessary one for this occasion, but what really matters, and what will decide the game will be the most recent form.
After Chelsea’s triumph of Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal, the team was praised by many, and for good reason. Their European success has been nothing short of spectacular, turning around a 3-1 deficit to Napoli in the round of 16, followed by a suspenseful quarterfinal victory over Benfica before defeating the holders in Spain. While European glory is obviously a focus for a big club like Chelsea, their domestic game has been less than remarkable since Di Matteo’s takeover.
After the 1-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion on March 3rd, and the subsequent firing of AVB, Di Matteo has managed a 7-3-2 record against English opposition. Not too bad on the surface, but a closer look will show that those numbers aren’t necessarily all that they’re talked up to be.
Victories over Birmingham, Leicester City, and Tottenham in the FA Cup have led them to this final. That leaves them at 4-3-2 in nine Premier League matches over the past two months. Those wins were over Stoke City, Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic, and Queens Park Rangers, all teams in 13th or lower as it stands. By the way, two of those FA Cup wins were against teams from the Championship (fairly easy draw in all honesty).
In the other five games, Chelsea lost to both Manchester City and Newcastle, while posting lackluster draws against Tottenham, Fulham, and Arsenal, making for some boring London derbies. So what are we supposed to make of this? Twelve matches and only one real quality win over English competition (Tottenham in the FA semis).
Liverpool’s recent success has been just as limited, posting a 3-1-6 record in their last ten Premier League matches. However, this team is absolutely deadly when it comes to cup ties.
As mentioned earlier, they won the Carling Cup, dispatching Chelsea and Manchester City along the way, before beating Championship side Cardiff City in the finals on penalties. On their way to the FA Cup final, they have beaten Stoke City, Everton, and Manchester United. This team undoubtedly knows how to play when it comes to winning trophies, something that should strike fear into every Chelsea supporter.
I can’t bring myself to limit my key player selection to just one guy, so I’ve upped the ante to three this time around:
Liverpool– Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez
Pepe Reina has been one of the most consistent, top class goalkeepers in the Premiership for a while now, and he will most likely be called on to turn away a few efforts here and there, as Chelsea will have a strong midfield and strike force that will be pushing to score. Remember, they scored five on Tottenham just a few weeks ago.
What else can be said about Steven Gerrard? The guy is a top class player, and will be a key creator for Carroll and Suarez up front. Don’t put it past him to drill one of his patented free kicks either.
Suarez’s hat trick against Norwich City last week has once again shown his potential, and in a game that I expect to be relatively close, one moment of brilliance from the Uruguayan could decide it.
Chelsea– John Terry, Ramires, Didier Drogba
Terry will not be available for the Champions League final match after picking up a red card at Barcelona. This is his chance to actually contribute on the field for glory. He may be allowed to lift the cup in Munich if they win, but this man will undoubtedly pour his heart and soul into this match to make sure that he can raise the FA Cup as well.
Ramires is another one of the four players that are suspended from the Champions League final, so this is his chance at contributing to a trophy as well. He has been playing very well as of late, creating mostly, but scoring when it counts. His chip over Valdes got Chelsea back into that game against Barcelona, and I figure that he’ll be a key contributor as he’ll try to break down the Liverpool back four.
Drogba scored a beauty against Tottenham in the semis, and a winner in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal as well. He knows how to either score or frustrate the defense in these big games, so look for him to be around the ball in the Liverpool half a lot. Just like Suarez, one spell of the ball at his feet could be a decider.
I’d be very surprised if this game was won by more than two goals by either team. I expect a tight affair, and think that either one of these teams getting shutout is something that won’t happen. It has extra time, and perhaps penalties written all over it, although this is a match that I don’t want to see decided from the spot like the Carling Cup was. I’m a little biased picking Chelsea, but they seem to be a team that can be motivated and focused by Di Matteo, who will surely have his own tactics put into place for this final matchup. 2-1 sounds like a good final score, either in extra time, or from a goal in the last ten minutes. Regardless of who raises the trophy, it should be a thrilling match to watch.