(FA Cup Final, Saturday 5 May 2012)
With his fourth Wembley cup final goal in four appearances, Didier Drogba was once again the match-winner as Chelsea overcame Liverpool to lift the FA Cup for the fourth time in six years. But the real hero was interim manager Roberto Di Matteo, who was rewarded with a trophy for engineering a remarkable turnaround in Chelsea’s fortunes this season.
Chelsea started the game brightly and were the better team for the first hour, by which time they’d taken a two-goal lead. After a cagey opening ten minutes Juan Mata split the Liverpool defence with a perfectly weighted pass to Ramires, who outpaced the Liverpool full-back, Enrique, and raced towards goal. Unlike in Barcelona, where Ramires chipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper, this time the Brazilian hit a powerful shot towards the near post, beating Pepe Reina, who should perhaps have done better.
Liverpool tried to respond quickly but were thwarted when Bellamy’s shot was blocked in front of the Chelsea goal line by Branislav Ivanovic. This attempt aside, there was a lack of genuine goalmouth action for the rest of the first half. Chelsea dominated possession and played the ball around comfortably but rarely threatened the Liverpool goal, except for a couple of long-range efforts that drifted wide. At the other end, Suarez was a lonely figure up front for Liverpool, who struggled to get the ball to their two wide men, Downing and Bellamy.
Seven minutes after the restart Chelsea went two ahead. John Obi Mikel found Lampard, who turned his marker and placed an inch perfect pass down the inside left channel to Drogba. The Ivorian, who had evaded his markers, placed a left-footed shot across Reina and into the far corner of the net. The goal not only ensured that Drogba became the first player to score in four FA Cup Finals, but he has now scored in every competitive fixture he’s played in for Chelsea at Wembley – that’s eight goals in eight games, covering both the FA Cup and Carling Cup.
Only after Carroll was introduced just after the second Chelsea goal did Liverpool begin to offer any real threat, and Carroll gave hope to the Liverpool supporters with a goal in the 64thminute. Downing robbed Bosingwa on the left near the goal line and crossed low to the big striker, who turned John Terry and shot into the roof of the net.
The goal changed the complexion of the game, spurring Liverpool on and forcing Chelsea on to the defensive. Cech made saves from Suarez and Carroll, who also headed over the bar. Then came another controversial goal line incident. Carroll met a chip from Suarez with a header that Cech clawed onto the bar, before Ivanovic cleared the ball away. While Liverpool players claimed a goal neither the referee nor his assistant thought the ball had crossed the line, and replays showed that their decision was correct.
The lively Carroll – who threatened the Chelsea goal more often in 30 minutes than the rest of the Liverpool team had done in the entire game – had one more chance to force the game into extra time, but Terry put in a great block to deny him, before making history himself by lifting the FA Cup for the fourth time as captain.
As the Chelsea players and fans celebrated their victory, Roberto Di Matteo can only have increased his chances of becoming manager on a permanent basis. After the game he continued to adopt a dignified and relaxed approach to the issue, preferring to give credit to his players for turning round a difficult season and responding to adversity. “At the moment I just want to enjoy today,” Di Matteo said after the game. “Whatever comes next, we'll deal with it, the boss will make the decision but I'm very relaxed about it.”
Throughout his tenure as interim manager Di Matteo has shown humility and has backed his players, communicating with them, treating them with respect, giving them confidence and trusting them. Management is, after all, about managing people.
Chelsea now have two Premier League games to play before the biggest prize of all, the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich on 19 May.
By Nick Sheppard