Liverpool disallowed 'goal' tainted last FA Cup final experience against Chelsea
When Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool side take to the Wembley turf to face Chelsea in the FA Cup Final for the first time under the German manager, it will not only provide an opportunity to win the famous old trophy for the eighth time but also exorcise some demons from a decade ago.
The Reds' last appearance in the world's oldest knockout competition was against the same opposition, as club legend Sir Kenny Dalglish helped steer his side to their second cup final of the 2011/12 season in his second spell at the club. Having been brought in to steady the ship after Roy Hodgson's disastrous Anfield tenure, King Kenny had already added the League Cup to his previous list of Anfield honours and was looking to complete a domestic cup double, just as Gerard Houllier had in 2001.
But Liverpool's league form had been a major disappointment. The club finished the same season eighth in the table, four points behind Everton and a massive 37 points adrift of Manchester United and eventual champions Manchester City. Pressure on Dalglish had been lifted somewhat by continued success in the cup competitions and the emergence of Luis Suarez as an Anfield talisman.
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Steven Gerrard had been confident of cup success and conceded that it would go some way to making up for a well below-par league campaign. He said: "The FA Cup is special, but we got a taste of success from winning the Carling Cup. That will help the younger players in the squad. Winning breeds confidence and you want more. We are all aware we have underachieved in the league and the squad of players is certainly better than where we are. We will assess the season and if we win two trophies I think it would alleviate the pressure slightly."
Chelsea had not fared particularly better themselves, finishing sixth in the table on 64 points. They headed into the final under the stewardship of former player Roberto Di Matteo, who had been instilled as interim manager two months earlier, following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. Despite the patchy league form, the Italian's stock was high with supporters, having guided the West London club to the Champions League final, which would be played just a week after the Wembley face-off with Liverpool.
Liverpool received an allocation of 25,074 tickets for their supporters, approximately 5,500 less than they have been given for this year's final. Much like the semi-final against Manchester City earlier this month, match-goers were faced with logistical travel issues, with the majority of direct trains from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston cancelled due to May Day Bank Holiday weekend maintenance work on the West Coast line. The problem was intensified by a 5.15pm kick off time that made advance planning problematic in the event that the game should go into extra time.
With Suarez leading the front line, Dalglish threw somewhat of a surprise in his team selection, leaving record signing Andy Carroll on the bench and instead opting for Jay Spearing to play alongside Gerrard as part of a five man midfield. Suarez and Carroll had been brought to Anfield on the same day that Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea for £50million. But having struggled for form, the Spaniard, once adored on Merseyside, could only make the bench for his new club and was an unused substitute in the final, alongside future Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge.
Played amid unusually wet and gloomy weather for a May final, Chelsea took the lead in the 11th minute when Juan Mata threaded the ball through to Ramires. The Brazilian skipped past Jose Enrique before drilling a shot that squirmed through Pepe Reina's legs and into the net.
Liverpool responded to falling behind with Glenn Johnson turning Didier Drogba before sending a testing cross into the penalty area. When the ball rebounded to Craig Bellamy, his shot had to be cleared off the line by Branislav Ivanonic. But with Suarez increasingly isolated, Liverpool were struggling to create chances and they fell further behind just seven minutes into the second half. Mata was once again the catalyst, picking out Drogba on the edge of the box before the brilliant Ivorian moved the ball out of his feet and arrowed home a typically clinical finish.
With the Reds in serious trouble, Dalglish brought off Spearing and sent on Carroll in search of a goal and 10 minutes later the former Newcastle favourite produced one. When Jose Bosingwa's clearance was blocked by Stuart Downing, the ball broke for Carroll, who cut inside before executing a stepover to bring his trusty left foot back into action, sending a rocket into the roof of the net in front of the Liverpool supporters. Game on.
With the Reds now in the ascendency, the game's most contentious moment arrived nine minutes from time. Slick build up play involving Gerrard and Suarez resulted in the latter floating a ball to the far post for Carroll. When Liverpool's number nine sent a booming heading towards goal, Chelsea 'keeper Petr Cech produced a brilliant instinctive save, tipping the ball onto the underside of the crossbar before Ivanovic flicked it away from the on-rushing substitute Dirk Kuyt.
Both Carroll and Suarez - along with Liverpool's 25,000 supporters - believed that the ball had crossed the line and were already celebrating as the match continued. With no goal line technology to verify the incident the referee waved play on. Television replays could not conclusively determine whether the goal should have stood or not but either way, Liverpool had been denied their equaliser.
That would be as close as they would come to rescuing the match and as referee Phil Dowd blew the full time whistle, Chelsea had won their four FA Cup in six seasons, leaving the Reds to wonder what might have been.
Fast forward 10 years and the two teams are preparing to face each other again. This time however, Liverpool's starting XI, regardless of who Jurgen Klopp selects, will have a significantly stronger feel to it than the one that lost in 2012 and could only gather 52 points in a miserable Premier League campaign. The Reds, of course, already have the upper hand on their capital opponents, having beaten them in the League Cup final on penalties earlier this season. But if Klopp's mentality monsters are to complete an almost unimaginable silverware quadruple this season, they will be need to be at the clinical best to conquer an opponent they have faced far too many times in knockout competitions over the past 17 years.
Liverpool starting XI against Chelsea in FA CUP Final, May 2, 2012: Reina, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Henderson, Spearing (54), Bellamy (76), Gerrard, Downing, Suarez.
Subs: Doni, Carragher, Kelly, Rodriguez, Shelvey, Carroll (54), Kuyt (76)
Chelsea starting XI: Chech, Boswinga, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Ramires (75), Mata (90), Kalou, Drogba
Subs: Turnbull, Ferreira, Essien, Malouda (90), Meireles (75), Torres, Sturridge