16 Conclusions From The FA Cup Final...

Liverpool should have tested Chelsea a lot more in the FA Cup final but poor individual performances led to another miserable result. How good was Petr Cech's save though...

Last Updated: 08/05/12 at 18:49 Post Comment

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* Very rarely is the FA Cup final a stunning spectacle and the trend of cagey affairs continued at a rain-soaked Wembley. It looked like the end of a long, hard season for both teams and the wet turf did little to help the flow of the game, with players losing their footing on several occasions. While it was obviously nowhere near as entertaining as the iconic 1953 final, and lacked a defining moment such as Eric Cantona's brilliant goal in 1996, it also wasn't quite "sh*t on a stick" as we feared before kick-off. There were fleeting moments that raised the pulse, and ultimately we should perhaps be grateful that at least three goals were scored, considering four of the last six seasons have seen the final finish 1-0.

* One moment of genuine exhilaration was Ramires' early goal for Chelsea. The midfielder is fast becoming an indispensable fixture in the Blues starting XI and will be arguably missed more than John Terry in the Champions League final. The Brazilian's customary burst from midfield when freed by Juan Mata's incisive pass left Jose Enrique desperately exposed. The shot was hit powerfully but the goal was more about Ramires' ability to break at speed and seize even the slightest opportunity to get round the full-back, as he did in the Camp Nou on April 24.

* Ramires' strike was well struck, but Pepe Reina really could have done a lot better at his front post. The goalkeeper gambled by shifting his weight onto his right leg and couldn't recover sufficiently to keep out the low drive. He instantly berated Enrique - who hardly covered himself in glory either - but in truth there have long been questions over Reina's decision-making and proneness to commit errors. The goalkeeper had a memorably shaky game in the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham and doubts remain over his composure in high-pressure situations.

* One of the main things Liverpool missed in the first half, and indeed all season, was a player similar to Ramires or Juan Mata who can carry the ball purposefully over 30-40 yards. The territory Chelsea gained through the Brazilian's willing runs was significant in putting Liverpool on the back foot. And when they gained possession themselves, it was all very side to side and lacking in thrust or urgency. Ramires' skill in carrying the ball quickly over long stretches of the pitch is beneficial in both counter-attacking and relieving the steady build-up of pressure from the opposition. Liverpool looked laborious, while Chelsea showed intent through such simple, decisive actions.

* As Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing continued to ponderously pass the ball across the middle, Liverpool began to lose their shape. The initial formation was 4-2-3-1 with Stewart Downing and Craig Bellamy occupying the flanks and Steven Gerrard tucking in behind Luis Suarez. However, with the team struggling to build up any pressure, Gerrard was dragged deeper and deeper until he was collecting short passes from the defence and trying to instigate purpose. It left a huge gap between the midfield and Suarez, who was easily crowded out in the narrow central channel dominated by blue bodies.

* Actually, was Gerrard 'dragged back' or was he himself responsible for upsetting Liverpool's pattern? The captain appeared impatient from very early on, influenced by Chelsea taking the lead after just 11 minutes. Questions have been raised over Gerrard's role in the Liverpool system this season, with the team winning just five of the 18 Premier League matches in which the skipper has featured. It certainly seemed as though Gerrard was reluctant to devolve responsibility to Spearing or Henderson, leaving his own post to try and fulfill the duties of the young duo. All this achieved was to further inhibit them and cast doubt over what exactly it was they should be doing.

* Kenny Dalglish's decision to start Henderson was rather befuddling. The midfielder has looked considerably out of his depth in a red shirt this season and Saturday's final was no different. The only thing I can remember him doing well was winning the ball back from Mata to prevent Chelsea from breaking when Liverpool were mustering late pressure. Anonymity would have been an improvement. There were plenty of moments when he was the most conspicuous player on the pitch because of an appalling pass or cross.

* In contrast to Dalglish, Roberto Di Matteo got his starting line-up spot on. With Didier Drogba leading the line, Chelsea had a real focal point for Mata, Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou to link with. The Blues were more threatening every time they had the ball and, unlike Liverpool, knew exactly what they wanted to do with it. Given that this is Chelsea's fourth FA Cup victory in six seasons, they can be considered experts in their ability to control the final. Only in the last half-hour did they begin to look a tad clammy.

* Given the manner of Chelsea's passage to the Champions League final at the expense of Barcelona, it must have been a significant psychological advantage to score so early. If they can hold off the best team in the world with only ten men, resisting Liverpool should have proved a doddle. And, for the most part, it did. Plus, even if Luis Suarez or Stewart Downing had managed to break through the back line there's always that secondary safety net in Liverpool's stunning profligacy this season.

* As it turned out, the eventual Liverpool pressure wasn't up to much. Compared to the siege against Barcelona, the Reds were only a mild nuisance to Chelsea. As Gerrard dropped into the quarterb-ack position to spray diagonal balls to Downing, the Blues retreated to cope with the aerial bombardment rather routinely. As John Terry no doubt bellowed at his teammates, they could deal with that approach all day.

* Andy Carroll was superb. For all Dalglish's alterations to the Liverpool formation, it was the sheer desire and stubbornness of Carroll that really began to change the tide. Showing "good feet for a big man" - as Andy Townsend couldn't wait to point out - the striker took his goal brilliantly and was the only Liverpool player to really test Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. Following Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final win against Blackburn in 2007, Terry claimed that Rovers forward Jason Roberts was the toughest player he'd ever faced, and Carroll's physical determination offered a similar threat. Considering the improvement in the Liverpool forward since the turn of the year, he should definitely be in with a shout of making the England squad for Euro 2012. At least for the option of a Plan B.

* Carroll's header wasn't over the line, shown conclusively by the TV replays. Two people deserve praise for this: firstly, it was a phenomenal save from Petr Cech to claw the ball away from the goal. The 'keeper has been at his very best in recent months and the plaudits brought by his save are thoroughly deserved. Secondly, assistant referee Andrew Garratt made a fantastic call. Taking full responsibility, the linesman looked assured when he told Phil Dowd that the ball hadn't crossed the line, and the replays proved him correct.

* Martin Skrtel has been one of the few positives for Liverpool this season, but his half-arsed, almost cowardly leg-dangle to try and prevent Didier Drogba's shot, which resulted in Chelsea's second goal, was pathetic. It was Drogba's 11th goal against the Reds and it seemed as though his reputation preceded him.

* I've often been left scratching my head at Dalglish's under-use of Bellamy this season, but apart from his blocked shot he went missing on Saturday.

* Chelsea know they will face a far tougher test against Bayern Munich on May 19. Unlike Liverpool, Bayern possess real pace and will stretch the wide areas far more convincingly through Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Saturday could not even be considered a practice.

* Has Liverpool's season been a failure? Not completely; there have been baby steps forward in some aspects, such as a first trophy in six years. However, that the club have ludicrously overspent on mediocre players in the past 18 months is a clear non-debate. Without significant changes in personnel, the Reds will continue to be closer to mid-table than the Champions League next season. It's a sorry state of affairs for such a huge club, but a matter-of-fact perspective is needed when addressing the team's performance this year.

Matthew Stanger - chat to him on the Twitter.

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