Offshore drilling, English FA Cup: Chelsea 2, Liverpool 1

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Man of the Match: Petr Cech stole this one from Frank Lampard in the 83rd minute. After a Liverpool surge that ripped open Chelsea’s defense, Andy Carroll had an open header from five yards out. He hit it well, but Cech got back and stopped the equalizer when most of the ball had already crossed the line. If strikers often win man of the match for one remarkable strike, Cech deserves some recognition for pulling off the goalkeeping equivalent.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Ashley Cole is now up to seven FA Cups. Yeesh.
  • Thankfully, the teams gave us a show in the second half, because the first half was terrible. Two sides playing similar formations adopted similarly conservative approaches. Chelsea had two midfielders sitting very deep, Liverpool had one-and-a-half, and neither team’s plan seemed to involve creating chances for themselves. Were it not for an 11th minute sequence with three clustered errors from Liverpool, we might have had a scoreless half (and after that, who knows).
  • But those errors did happen. Jay Spearing went forward from his sitting position and lost the ball. Juan Mata played a pass toward Ramires on the right, threading a ball close enough to Jose Enrique to draw the Liverpool left back out of position (without giving the ball away). Ramires dribbled to within 12 yards of goal and fired directly at Pepe Reina, who moved out of the way and allowed the opener to go in off his left leg.
  • After the goal, Liverpool was a silver-lined mess. That silver lining: They couldn’t get enough going in order to assume their attacking shape, so they couldn’t get caught out again. This is not necessarily a good thing.
  • Their biggest problem was Steven Gerrard, whether it be by the team’s tactic or the player’s innate tendencies. Ostensibly, he should have been playing an attacking midfield position, roughly between Craig Bellamy (right wing) and Stewart Downing (left), in a place to play off Luis Suárez. Gerrard, seemingly frustrated by not seeing enough of the ball (with Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel both playing deep), kept dropping back, leaving a huge, vacant area behind Luis Suárez.
  • Contrast that was Lampard’s positioning. No, Gerrard and Lampard weren’t playing the same role, but hey – it’s Gerrard and Lampard. I’m obligated to compare them. Lampard’s positioning was consistently excellent. He always appeared keenly aware of his role within his team’s set-up (and how that changed with the game state).
  • My big question: Why did Kenny Dalglish think the team he put out would work against a Chelsea side that was bound to play on the counter? He put Suárez in a one-on-two matchup with John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. He put Gerrard in a one-on-two matcup with Lampard and Mikel. Bellamy against Ashley Cole, Downing against José Bosingwa – where is the matchup Liverpool’s staff drew up on the chalkboard, circled, and said “that’s where we win this game”?
  • These are not new observations about Liverpool’s tactics, but in the team’s biggest game of the year, the observations still bare noting. Dalglish has been in charge for over a year, and it is still unclear this team’s plan to win matches goes beyond mere opportunism (even if that opportunism got them today’s goal).
  • By the time Dalglish made his first change, it was too late. In the 51st minute, Lampard beat Spearing to pass a ball to Didier Drogba entering the left-center of Liverpool’s area. A couple of touches to freeze Martin Skrtel gave Drogba time to let go of a left-footer to the far post. Shielded by his defender, Reina was slow to react. Three minutes later, Andy Carroll comes on for Spearing.
  • Carroll did get a quick goal (64′), a nice finish where he had to beat Terry before getting a very good short by Cech. Still, the goal was pure opportunism. Downing took the ball off Ivanovic deep in Chelsea’s end. The ball quickly went to Carroll, who pulled Liverpool back in the match.
  • The video review debate will be back on the agenda in the coming days, Carroll’s potential 83rd minute equalizer thought by some of the over the line. Unless you’re a glutton for a fight, just skip this one. This issues remain the same as they were three hours ago.
  • Players behaving badly: After Carroll’s near-goal, Cech did that annoying, Dikembe Mutombo finger wave after the save. Whatever – at least think of something original. Luis Suárez ran over to the assistant referee to berate the lack of a goal. He was appropriately yellow carded.
  • If the Cup win was a confirmation of Roberto di Matteo’s candidacy, the manner of Liverpool’s defeat was an indictment of Dalglish’s stewardship. The League Cup can not be forgotten, but the list of qualms with the latest Dalglish era is reaching a critical mass. Not only has league been a disaster with the squad unable to find goals, but the team wasn’t ready to compete in their biggest match of the season.
  • But with Liverpool coming within an inch of a late equalizer, there’s a chance these problems are likely to be forgotten. In that way, this might be the worst possible outcome for supporters, as it concerns how Liverpool regroups for the 2012-13 season. If they choose to do so, the club can rationalize a certain level of quality based on today’s final result. Unfortunately, what lies beneath the 2-1 close-call is a performance that could have led to a 3-0.
  • For Chelsea, it a great result, if not exactly a great performance. They leave Wembley deserved winners of their fourth FA Cup in six seasons. Now the focus shifts to Munich.

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