Match Report by Anthony Jones at talklfc
Joy, concern, anger, fear, disappointment, resignation, empty. It's hard to recall what other, if any, emotions felt during the 2005 Carling Cup final by this Liverpool supporter. Liverpool entered the game as underdogs, lifted by Chelsea's recent troubles and the confirmed absence of Robben. As much as the League Cup under it's various guises has been played down, this was a match that both managers wanted to win.
Benitez concerned about the quality in the Chelsea ranks lined up with five in midfield. The surprise being the selection of Kewell on the right with Garcia as the central supporting player. Morientes was selected to lead the attack, with Baros dropping to the bench. The selections suggested that Benitez wanted to attack, and those suggestions became reality instantly.
Early goals can be both a god send and a hindrance. They can set a tone for a side, giving them a platform from which to press forward for the rest of the game, or act as a millstone, injecting doubt into the minds of players, uncertain whether to stick or twist. Sadly it appeared to have the wrong affect on Liverpool's players, with too many reverting to type.
It seems an eternity since the opening goal went in, so early in the game it arrived. Luis Garcia found space in the centre of the park, thirty five yards from goal. Facing the right flank, he was unaware of Riise in an abundance of space and instead turned into a tackle. However, supported by Kewell, the Spaniard fought back and the ball bounced to Morientes. Liverpool's centre forward spotted space down the right and carried the ball out wide before sending a deep cross to the left. The clock ticked, 36, 37, 38, 39 and suddenly with 46 seconds on the clock, the ball was nestling in the back of Petr Cech's goal. In the seconds between Morientes' cross and the ball crossing the line, John Arne Riise had hit a volley of true brilliance which left the giant keeper standing.
It was the perfect start. In mid-week, Chelsea had gone a goal ahead to superior opposition in the form of Barcelona and had then watched on as the opposition passed them to death. This time around though, it was Chelsea forcing the play in search of an equaliser whilst Liverpool were often left chasing shadows. Yet for the opening twenty minutes, Liverpool held strong defensively, whilst managing to keep Chelsea honest with Kewell and Garcia linking well on the counter attack.
Then the moment that would define the match arrived. Liverpool for the third time in just two games against Chelsea were robbed a certain penalty. At the turn of the year, a Tiago handball and a Makelele push on Sinama-Pongolle went unpunished. It was Makelele once again at the centre of the controversy. A ball over the top found Gerrard making a rare surge into the Chelsea area. Ahead of the Chelsea midfielder, he was set to turn the ball into the six yard box when Makelele ran across the back of the Liverpool captain and clearly brought him down. Bennett had a clear view of the incident, possibly the best of those present, yet inexplicably chose to turn down the appeals. To describe the incident as blatant would be understating it and questions will surely be asked as to whether the FA have changed the laws of the game, ensuring Liverpool don't receive penalties against this opposition.
Before the questioning had even finished, Chelsea had almost pulled level. A quick counter, catching Liverpool off guard allowed Drogba to get into a shooting position, the first real Chelsea chance, but it was saved by Dudek. Whereas Liverpool had previously kept the door shut, with great concentration and determination, the focus seemed to wander, as if wondering whether at 2-0 the final would already have been won.
The remainder of the half saw Chelsea increasing the pressure, with Liverpool struggling to put more than two or three passes together. As the Liverpool back four dropped deeper, Morientes found himself further and further isolated and unable to retain possession. Damien Duff once broke the off-side trap, but a sloppy first touch allowed Traore to tackle back. Both Hyypia and Traore picked up bookings, as did Lampard, yet there seemed no pattern to Bennett's officiating as he allowed incidents to go unpunished. He continued to annoy the Liverpool players and fans though as he fell on a number of occasions for dives involving Joe Cole and was leaving himself open to accusations of bias.
Hope of inspiration at half time from Benitez was quickly brushed aside as Chelsea continued to press forward. A Joe Cole cross found Gudjohnssen on the six yard line and his downward header appeared set to give Chelsea an equaliser until Dudek, on the stretch made an incredible save. Not able to rest on his laurels he was quickly up to block William Gallas' follow up strike.
The pressure was unbearable. Liverpool seemed unable or unprepared to get numbers forward. Harry Kewell was withdrawn through injury, despite making a couple of long range runs before his substitution. One wonders whether without all the recent injury problems, Kewell would have shown more character and battled on? Raphael Benitez will also surely wonder whether he made the right change. With Liverpool struggling despite their numbers in midfield, and with Morientes now forlorn alone upfront, he may have missed his opportunity to change the shape of the game. With Baros on the bench, he instead opted to retain the shape and invited Nunez to join in the action.
On a rare attack, Liverpool nearly doubled their lead. Didi Hamann broke up the Chelsea play with his usual efficiency and opted to continue his run forward. The ball found it's way to Luis Garcia on the left, and suddenly it became apparent that with the right ball, Hamann was in. The pass was perfect, curled to the edge of the eighteen yard box and Hamann continued forward striking the ball with the outside of his right foot. Cech however demonstrated why he is rated as the best in the land, stretching to tip it wide. Hamann will be disappointed that his shot didn't start on a line outside of the post, as the curl took it too close to the keeper. That chance was then followed by one for Gerrard. Surging into the box, the ball was crossed into the right and the Liverpool skipper looked odds on to score. On the slide he pushed his left foot at the ball and would have scored but for a brilliant sliding tackle by Ferrera. That Bennett failed to award the obvious corner just sums up the officials ineptitude.
It was to be Liverpool's last real chance in the game. Within minutes it was all square and how ironic that the goal should come from the head of Steven Gerrard, a player so heavily linked to Chelsea. In fairness, little blame can be apportioned to the player. Chelsea won a free kick on the break, as Hamann cynically stopped an attack with the defence stretched. The set piece was drilled high into the box, and Gerrard leapt to clear. Yet much to his horror, the ball slid off the top of his head and in off the post, with Dudek stranded. The goal visibly destroyed Gerrard who became little more than a passenger for the remainder of the game. Liverpool's passionate captain had seen his spirit broken, and lacked the character to overcome his own personal nightmare - the more cynical might suggest he lacked the desire to overcome it.
Either way, Chelsea had got the goal their domination had deserved. They say you make your own luck, and Chelsea had the possession and chances to match their good fortune. In the celebrations, Mourinho turned and motioned that those around him should be quiet. An action that incited obvious reactions and led to him being escorted from the sidelines. It made little difference.
His side continued to press forward. Baros had earlier replaced Morientes, rather than played in tandem with him, and he had no greater fortune than the former Madrid player. Liverpool were hanging on for all they were worth, with Carragher, Hyypia and Hamann standing tall, but probably far, far too deep. Finnan was working overtime to give Chelsea little joy on the right, whilst Riise, forced to play deeper when Traore went off injured, tried his best with Garcia disappearing from sight.
The game went into extra time. And within minutes it could have been over, as Drogba headed against a post. Baros had his only real opportunity, breaking the offside trap down the inside left channel, but his first touch was heavy and forced him onto his left and from a tight angle he shot over.
Liverpool looked happy to settle for penalties, but Chelsea were there for the win. They got their noses in front when a long throw from Glen Johnson was allowed into the six yard box, with Hyypia missing the header. Drogba was first to react, and his finish was low and out of Dudek's reach. Two quickly became three as Kezman who had looked poor since coming on, finished from close range. A Lampard cross deceived Dudek who's punch stayed in play, and Gudjohnsen reacted quickly, drilling the ball into the box where Kezman forced the ball over the line.
It was all over. An Antonio Nunez score, his first goal for the club, gave Liverpool a slight chance after he headed home following a mishit clearance from a Gerrard free kick. It wasn't enough. Igor Biscan did have a chance in the closing seconds, finding space to the right of goal, he headed a cross towards goal and downwards but the range was too great for him to get sufficient power and Cech collected.
And so Benitez will be left to wait for his first piece of silverware. With realism insisting that a Champions League victory is seemingly out of reach, he'll finish the year empty handed. The focus must now be on gaining a return into next seasons Champions League, though it's been a bad weekend as Everton picked up points and increased the gap.
In looking for positives, one must hope that not just the result, but the performance today goes all the way to emphasise the work that remains. Benitez is no fool and was surely aware of the task in hand, yet it's been seen at this club that success in this competition can mask the real situation. It has to be remembered that Liverpool were deprived of their two most expensive signings but it just shows the lack of depth at the club. Whilst Chelsea coped without Robben, Liverpool were awful without Alonso.
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez: "I was disappointed. When you're winning 1-0 and you have two clear chances to finish the game - and then you score an own goal at the end you can say that it's bad luck. We must be proud because they tried to do their best. I have talked to Steven and to all the players and said to them they must be proud. If you run, if you work, if you try your hardest you cannot do more. I feel we did the things we needed to do."
"Against a team like Chelsea, you need to control the space and afterwards try to make good counter-attacks. And we did those things. If you have two or three clear chances, it means you have done your job. But you need luck to score, to finish. It's a pity for the team and for the supporters - because we have maybe the best supporters in England. When you concede a goal like this it's not a problem for one player but for the team."
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: "We were the best team. They fought a lot. They defended a lot and well and they were very well organised. They did their best. But when we scored with 10 minutes to go, at that moment we had a big advantage from the psychological point of view. The attitude of my players was magnificent and we deserved to win, no doubt about it."
"I have a lot of respect for Liverpool fans and what I did, the sign of silence, 'shut your mouth', was not for them it was for the English press. They speak too much because Chelsea lost two matches in a week (the FA Cup defeat at Newcastle and the UEFA Champions League loss to Barcelona). In my opinion you (the media) try to do everything to disturb Chelsea and try to take some confidence from us. The sign was for you (the press). Don't speak too soon. We have the first title and almost for sure we will have the second one."
Liverpool 'goalscorer' Steven Gerrard: "It's very hard to take. Credit to Chelsea, they deserved the win and we have got to pick ourselves up, we've got other things to play for. But it is tough to take. We scored early on - maybe a bit too early - but we were happy with the goal and tried to see the clock out but they got a lovely own goal by myself, when we were 15 minutes away from lifting the cup ourselves. It's very painful, losing any game is painful but especially cup finals and an own goal. It has been a bad day for me but I've got to pick myself up."