Kevin McCarra at Anfield
For Rafael Benítez the last gasp is a sigh of satisfaction. A year ago the season came to a close with the presentation of the Champions League trophy to Liverpool. After Saturday's result most people now foresee the club's current campaign reaching its end with the FA Cup being delivered into the custody of Steven Gerrard. The Anfield side has durability and, in that respect, they were a superior version of Chelsea themselves.
It is so often Jose Mourinho's team that proves indefatigable but they were brittle in the semi-final and a cracked performance put the match out of reach. The Chelsea manager's initial plan was an obstacle to his players. While Michael Essien blazes with power, he does not have the sparkle essential to a footballer placed at the tip of a midfield diamond.
Benítez got his own tactics badly wrong in the first half of that Champions League final with Milan but he is not prone to the preening unorthodoxy that afflicted Mourinho at the weekend. The Liverpool manager also has a smallish squad that would deny him scope for such a folly even if he did suffer from grandiosity.
In the long run those limited means will, however, restrict achievements. "We can compete with Chelsea for one game but not for nine months," Benítez said, casting an eye over the prospects for next season's Premiership. "It is the same for the rest of the teams." Including Robbie Fowler, who was ineligible on Saturday, there are about 17 hardened footballers in his squad. "If we have two or three new players maybe we can be contenders, I don't know," he said tentatively.
For the time being Benítez can be confident only of giving Chelsea an exceedingly bad day now and again. While the FA Cup final will be the 59th fixture of their programme, Liverpool still retain the vigour and cohesion to exploit miscalculations such as Mourinho's. The match could just as easily have ended in a draw, with Joe Cole haplessly firing over from his fellow substitute Arjen Robben's chip in the last minute of stoppage time, but Chelsea could not impose their will until late in the game.
For over an hour they were dishevelled and, even when an off-side Didier Drogba was allowed to run clear in the 19th minute, he shot embarrassingly wide. For all Mourinho's blunders, the officials were even-handed in their mistakes. Benítez had a rebuke of his own for the referee Graham Poll even as he implied that the award of Liverpool's key free-kick, after 21 minutes, had been misguided. "Maybe it's the only one the referee gave to us," he said.
John Terry did raise his boot but he posed no danger to Luis García as he connected with the ball. The Spanish attacker, in any case, was also lifting his own foot in a more tentative manner. From the free-kick John Arne Riise slotted a shot home through the gap created as the defensive wall jumped, with Frank Lampard and Paulo Ferreira half-turning away from one another.
There were many errors from Chelsea, whose partial recovery of confidence arrived too late. They were shaken by the vulnerability inherent in Mourinho's plans. Geremi has been a success lately as a makeshift right-back but he still needed more help than he got from Ferreira, who was stationed in front of him during the first half.
Many have faulted Harry Kewell for his attitude, fitness and hairstyle but his gifts are never in dispute. The left-winger made the most of his opportunities while the game was taking shape and Chelsea never did find their customary poise. The lead could have been extended even earlier than it was but it was typical of García that he should accept a difficult chance after wasting easier ones.
In the 53rd minute a misheader by Ferreira, who had been switched to left-back, and another by William Gallas set the Spaniard free but his floated finish from 20 yards was still exquisite. That soft touch of his boot was a fearful blow to Chelsea, whose goal, after 71 minutes, ought also to have been prevented. Riise miscued a header from a Claude Makelele cross but danger would still have been averted had Jose Reina not rushed out so injudiciously that Drogba could nod the ball over him.
Chelsea's display was jumbled and Mourinho had to mount a desperate search for excuses. He protested that it was incorrect to rule out an apparent equaliser by Terry, although the captain had put a hand on Riise's shoulder as he jumped to head in Robben's free-kick after 50 minutes.
The Stamford Bridge team were actually beaten because they never reached the expected standard. They could not afford that against Liverpool, who completed their eighth consecutive win on Saturday. The retention of the Premiership title ought to be relished by Chelsea soon enough but, at the Millennium Stadium, Benítez should have the final word this season.
Man of the match: Harry Kewell
The Australian faded as an injury began to take its toll, but it had been the winger who exposed the gaps on Chelsea's right side and implanted doubts. His best moment came in the sixth-minute, when a run past Geremi hinted at the trouble he and Liverpool could cause.
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