Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1
LONDON // Managers come and go, but there is a consistency to Chelsea. Whoever is in charge, FA Cup finals are ideal occasions for them.
A competition that is practically their private fiefdom was won for a fourth time in six years, Ramires and Didier Drogba securing victory against Liverpool.
A fourth different coach collected a medal in that run, with Roberto Di Matteo emulating Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti by celebrating under Wembley Stadium’s famous arch. The interim manager is making an indelible mark.
They have only lost twice in 18 games under the Italian and, from the moment Pepe Reina blundered and Ramires struck, Chelsea were not unsettled until Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, sent for Andy Carroll.
The most expensive Englishman ever had scored the semi-final winner against Everton and is developing a liking for the major stage.
Within nine minutes of his introduction, he had halved the deficit.
With nine remaining, he thought he had equalised. But Phil Dowd, the referee, ruled that, when Carroll met Luis Suarez’s cross with a forceful header, Petr Cech contrived to push it on to the bar and away without the whole of the ball crossing the line.
Instead, the forward who exerted the decisive impact was Drogba, who became the first player in the 140-year history of the FA Cup to score in four finals.
His passport shows he comes from the Ivory Coast, but Wembley is a spiritual home for the towering target man.
The African has had more cause to celebrate at England’s national stadium than most of the players Roy Hodgson will take to Euro 2012.
The opening goal, however, was a disaster for a World Cup winner. Reina had acknowledged in the build-up that this has been the poorest of his seven seasons at Liverpool.
The nadir came in the 11th minute. Juan Mata guided his pass into the path of Ramires, who accelerated past a somewhat static Jose Enrique.
His shot should have been saved by Reina but the goalkeeper, expecting the Brazilian to aim for his far post, only succeeded in tipping it into his net.
This was a reminder of the dynamic qualities of Ramires, how his formidable blend of pace and stamina can be utilised on the right.
The dismissed Andre Villas-Boas generally used him in a central role and, when Chelsea doubled their lead, three more beneficiaries of the Di Matteo regime combined. John Obi Mikel fed Frank Lampard who, in turn, picked out Drogba. He drilled his shot past Reina, who was blameless this time.
And at that stage, Chelsea were in complete control and Liverpool were muted.
Their only response had been a Craig Bellamy volley, bravely blocked by Branislav Ivanovic, a couple of minutes after Ramires scored the opener. But having come to contain, they had no option but to attack.
Enter Carroll, who proceeded to do a fine impression of Drogba at his blistering best.
If his goal came about in unusual fashion – as Stewart Downing tackled Jose Bosingwa – it was taken with composure, the striker strolling past John Terry before unleashing an unstoppable shot.
What followed was more predictable.
Liverpool launched an aerial assault, aiming for Carroll at every opportunity. It was a tactic that almost paid dividends.
He was painfully close to an equaliser from Suarez’s cross, but his mere presence brought the Uruguayan to life.
Chelsea, who had barely had to defend for an hour, needed some heroics. Cech tipped a Suarez shot past the post. Ivanovic made a superb tackle on Martin Skrtel as the Liverpool defender was about to shoot.
But the Anfield tradition of escapology in major finals could not be extended.
They are the Carling Cup winners, but there will be no double for them this season. There may yet be one for Chelsea’s Uefa Champions League finalists.
In the meantime, blue, once again, is the colour on the FA Cup. It often is.
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