Chelsea haven't had their finest season in the league. There's approximately zero hope of the Blues finishing in the top four, and they haven't looked deserving of such a position since before the new year. But that doesn't mean that there haven't been some absolutely wonderful moments this season, and the FA Cup final looked as though it was going to be one of them. Fortunately, Chelsea came through, emerging as 2-1 winners after a match that started comfortably and then became increasingly terrifying.
Roberto di Matteo fielded the starting lineup more or less everyone expected. With David Luiz out, Jose Bosingwa had to come in at right back with Branislav Ivanovic in the centre. This creates an obvious weakness on the right side of the defence, but Liverpool's lineup, which roughly matched Chelsea's, failed to test it for the first hour or so.
Chelsea began the match in complete control, with John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard bossing the midfield. Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing were overmatched, and Liverpool couldn't even get the ball when Steven Gerrard dropped deep to help his beleaguered comrades out. When they did manage to gain possession, that didn't help them out much either, because Chelsea quickly regained control of the ball and launched a rapier-thrust of a counterattack in the 11th minute.
Spearing coughed up possession near the centre circle, and Juan Mata ended with the ball. That was bad news from Liverpool's standpoint, because Mata had the vision to pick out Ramires' blistering run down the right channel and played in a ball that turned Jose Enrique inside out. Ramires' speed did the rest, and although his finish wasn't great, Pepe Reina wasn't expecting a near post shot and could only help his effort into the back of the net. Chelsea led 1-0.
Immediately, Liverpool replied, with Craig Bellamy firing in a volley that was blocked on the line by Branislav Ivanovic. There was some slight fear that we had woken up Kenny Dalglish's side with the goal, but the Welshman's hit proved very much a false dawn. The Blues faced zero threat whatsoever for the rest of the first half, although in return they didn't do much else to trouble a shaky-looking Reina - silly long-range shots appeared to be the order of the day.
Even though Chelsea had a 1-0 lead at halftime and were completely dominating the match, we knew we'd need another in order to feel anything like safe. Fortunately, after the break the Blues looked very interested in going forward, with Ashley Cole in particular doing excellent work down the left flank. The chance was going to come, and when it did, I'm very glad it fell to Didier Drogba.
Frank Lampard turned Spearing inside out before playing a pass forward to the Ivorian, who slipped in a left-footed effort through Martin Skrtel's legs and just inside Reina's left-hand post. At 2-0, the game was clearly over, and the only remaining question seemed like it would be just how big the margin of victory would be.
And then Andy Carroll appeared and annihilated our defence.
That's a weird sentence. Read it again. Andy Carroll, a man best described as a particularly clumsy alcoholic giraffe, changed the course of the game with his introduction. Within a few minutes of coming on, he had taken advantage of a Jose Bosingwa error, making John Terry look like an idiot before slotting calmly past Petr Cech. From then on, Chelsea looked like a completely different team.
The Blues couldn't hold their line. They refused to keep the ball. Cech kept punting in the vague direction of Drogba, which basically meant a lot of giving possession right back to Liverpool whenever we won it. And that meant a lot of defending.
Liverpool had looked so poor for the first hour that it's absolutely incredible that they managed to look as good as they did in the late stages of the match. Clever, quick passing moves ripped open the Chelsea defence time after time, and the Blues had Petr Cech to thank for an absolutely astonishing fingertip save in the 82nd minute after Luis Suarez had dropped a delightful ball onto Carroll's head. The ball didn't cross the line, although Liverpool were tto busy celebrating to actually put it in, and Ivanovic could clear to safety.
That proved to be the last really meaningful effort on Chelsea's goal. The Blues had survived, barely, and emerged from their shell-shocked state to see the rest of the match out and secure their first trophy in two years and their seventh FA Cup overall.
One final down, one to go.