Talk lfc match report
By Anthony Jones at Talklfc
There are ghosts in the corridors of Anfield. Ghosts of great managers, great players and great nights. They've been forced to look on as the club has lurched from one false dawn to another. Haunting the fans, those lucky enough to enjoy the success of years ago and those who haven't. The ghosts can rest easy tonight, proud of the efforts of those who pull on the Red shirt today. The tally stands at four European Cup successes, the chance to add another has been confirmed following as determined a display as you could ever hope to see.
After a week of build up the Anfield crowd delivered, as they always do on nights like tonight. Mourinho commented in the week that football supporters cannot win a match, strictly speaking he is of course correct, but he may want to assess the impact they can have. Mourinho was linked to the Liverpool job last summer, he might not regret that it didn't work out, a league and cup double should see to that however he might look on enviously at the type of support Liverpool are afforded.
Liverpool's plan was simple, to fly out of the blocks, using the spirit of the evening to drive them forward. With Xabi Alonso suspended, Benitez was delighted to have Didi Hamann back available and despite lack of football since picking up an injury, the German started. Chelsea's problem at full back was on full display with Johnson and Huth both failing to convince Geremi was retained after his first start against Bolton at the weekend. The biggest news though was that neither Duff nor Robben were fit to start, though the Dutchman did make it onto the bench.
After a couple of tentative surges from both sides the game suddenly opened up. Riise drilled the ball into Gerrard after beating Lampard out wide. Liverpool's captain with great awareness of the play chipped the ball with the outside of his foot over the onrushing defence and into the Chelsea defence. Milan Baros who has struggled of late made was alive to the opportunity and reached the ball just seconds before Cech. The striker lifted the ball over his fellow countryman and looked destined to finish only to be hauled down by the giant keeper. The Kop rose to claim a penalty and the certain red card that should have been awarded to Cech. Yet one man wasn't waiting for the official.
It was always felt that one moment could well decide this game. Throughout four previous games there had been little to separate the two sides, there was little belief this match would be anything different. In a moment, Garcia wrote himself into Liverpool history. It has been an interesting season from the little forward from Barcelona. After an explosive start to his Anfield career unfair comparisons to Kenny Dalglish, maybe the greatest of all Liverpool players seemed to weigh him down. The arrival of his first child might also have hindered his progress, whilst the slightest of frames seemed unsuitable for the Premiership. Yet over the past two or three months there is an increasing belief that Garcia has it in him to be a Liverpool player. In one moment on 3rd May he ensured he would never be forgotten. Nipping in, he prodded the ball goalwards. It deflected off Terry but still looked destined to cross the line. Desperately, Gallas hooked the ball away, claiming it hadn't crossed the line. Garcia was away, celebrating what he believed a certain goal. Liverpool players followed him, almost hoping to convince the officials. It didn't matter, with the help of his assistance, the referee had already given the goal. Chelsea might argue that it was never a goal, but then the penalty and sending off that would surely have been given otherwise might have proved more costly anyway. It might take years to conclusively prove whether the ball did actually cross the line though.
Suddenly the memory of the Carling Cup final came flooding back. Same teams, early goal, one team needing to score to open the match up, the other desperate not to concede. In Cardiff, Chelsea got a great deal of luck when the ball slid off the head of the unfortunate Gerrard, the question was, would they get the same break here.
Before the game, Milan Baros commented how Benitez had made his players watch a video of the first leg. It was intended to show the Liverpool players exactly how physical Chelsea had been in that game and what would be needed to get through the second leg. Baros seemed to follow it to the letter in the first half as he chased everything, giving Carvalho a torrid time and on one occassion going a little too far. That he was the only player booked in the game owes a little to a considerate ref, but Liverpool won't be complaining as all of their players have avoided suspension from the final - including Jamie Carragher who walked the tight rope of the booking tally system all night without ever showing it.
Chelsea slowly started to impose themselves on the game, controlling the midfield area. Without either of the key wingers, Chelsea lacked any width. As a result, as they did in the first leg, they resorted to the direct approach which had worked so well against Bayern. It is an approach though that undoubtedly suits Liverpool's towering centre halves, Carragher and Hyypia. Both were immense though the plaudits will go to Jamie Carragher who covered the whole of the back four majestically and also showed a level of composure on the ball that many believed was far beyond him.
Chelsea were then gifted an opportunity. Luis Garcia brilliant up until this point suddenly track of where he was. With the ball at his feet only twenty yards out from goal he dithered, passing up the obvious pass and then gave the ball away. Chelsea quickly worked the ball to Cole down their inside left channel. Dudek rushed out to apply pressure, and despite reaching the ball first all Cole could do was chip the ball past the far post. It was a stark reminder of the fine line Liverpool were walking. Only thirty minutes had been played, but for those with an association to either team it seemed like an eternity. It would only get worse.
Yet it didn't, not during the first half. For the most part, Liverpool were chasing shadows and tackling anything that moved but ultimately the first line of defence held strong. Carragher and Hyypia continuing to dominate the air, whilst Finnan was standing strong alongside them. In midfield Biscan and Hamann were running themselves into the ground in their attempts to shut the door. 135 minutes played and Dudek had still to make a save in this European tie.
The second half passed much along the same lines as the first. Chelsea controlling the ball, Liverpool resolute in defence. In an early foray, a Finnan cross travelled through to Riise but the usual thunderous drive was instead replaced with a damp squib of a shot. Chelsea were struggling to hurt Liverpool, all their football played at least thirty yards from goal where the ideas ran out and were replaced with the hopeful punt. Anfield greeted one or two with a cry of 'hoof' - harking back to the days when opposition fans taunted Liverpool's approach play under Gerard Houllier.
John Arne Riise was increasingly becoming Liverpool's outball as Baros' impact faded whilst Gerrard dropped deeper to help man the barracades. At times Liverpool's defending was the very definition of last ditch, but rarely was it beyond the realms of fairness. Controlled aggression was the key. Benitez made the first tactical change, replacing Baros with Cisse, a sure sign of Liverpool's increasing need to limit their attacking play to the counter.
Chelsea then won a couple of free kicks within as many minutes. The first after the ball had bounced off Riise's arm, a harsh decision given a similar appeal against John Terry in the first half had been turned down. Didier Drogba though, looking little like a 24m striker saw his curling effort float harmlessly over. Moments later though Traore gave away a free kick from a similar position. Drogba stepped over the ball, and Lampard drilled the ball goalwards. Through the wall, Dudek had little sight of the ball, yet diving to his right he managed to get a strong hand on it and tipped it wide. It was every bit as good as Cech's save in the first leg, and probably more important.
Kezman and Robben would come on, replacing Cole and Tiago. Robben was thought to be the big threat, but without too much football in recent times, his impact was limited - especially with Finnan in such good form. Not long after, Robert Huth would come on for Geremi and instantly headed upfront, a sure sign of their intent. With all the changes, Chelsea opened up their right flank and with Kewell on for the physically exhausted Biscan, Liverpool looked to relieve the pressure down that side. It made for an exciting final few minutes.
Kewell played his role to perfection, holding the ball up, winning free kicks and generally causing a nuisance and running down the clock - all of this in the Chelsea half. When Nunez joined him and started to do likewise on the right it looked as though Liverpool were there. Cisse nearly managed to break through the Chelsea defence on a couple of occasions only to see his final touch carry the ball too far. Yet it was Gallas' touch that nearly gifted him a goal, a wayward header bounced down to Cisse who looked to flick the ball over Cech who had rushed to his penalty spot, but the keepers giant hand just stopped the ball.
Despite six minutes showing on the fourth officials ball for stoppages, an amount that even a couple of streakers couldn't justify, Liverpool looked settled. The game was now firmly being played in the Chelsea half much to their frustration. Then suddenly, Chelsea broke. The ball played in from the Chelsea left found Hyypia and Dudek uncertain as to who should clear. The Liverpool keeper flapped at the ball, rekindling memories of errors of the past. The ball fell to Gudjohnsen. Ninety five minutes showed up on the clock. A goal would put Chelsea through, no time to reply. Gudjohnsen, the only player who appeared likely to break down the Liverpool rearguard all night controlled the ball and struck it in hope of winning the tie. Much to his disgust and to the joy of those in Red it flew inches wide. There was nothing that Abrahmovich's millions could do to change the course of the ball in that second.
It was over. Liverpool moved into a final that even now seems unlikely. Nobody would have predicted it at the start of the season, few would even have expected it when this semi-final draw was made. Jose Mourinho claimed that 99.9% of Liverpool fans believed they were already in the final after the first leg. When they wake up in the morning, 100% of Liverpool fans can look forward to a final in Istanbul. For a club with so many great nights in it's history books, this might just go down as one of the greatest.