While Chelsea still had a mathematical chance of automatically qualifying for the Champions League going into Tuesday’s fixture at Anfield, one glance at the team selected by Roberto Di Matteo left little doubt as to where the his priorities lay. With the day of reckoning in Munich looming larger with each passing day, preserving the fitness of those eligible to take the field in Bavaria was of primary concern.
The total domination of Kenny Dalglish’s men at Wembley, until Jose Bosingwa’s error allowed Liverpool a foothold in the match, was joyous to behold and rendered proceedings four days later almost meaningless. The FA Cup was secured for the seventh time in the club’s history – drawing level with the Merseysiders and only lagging behind Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham in the numbers game – and mission was accomplished with few alarms.
Even though the war had been won, the skirmish at Anfield was billed as an opportunity for Liverpool to seek revenge, the 4-1 scoreline in favour of the hosts leading many to claim that that is exactly what was achieved. However, I doubt too many of those clad in red truly believe that their victory against a side sporting eight changes to the one that comprehensively outplayed them 96 hours earlier was ample compensation for losing out in English football’s showpiece occasion. It should also be remembered that although Liverpool deserved their win that night, the margin of victory was a little flattering. Both Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres rattled the frame of the goal while Romelu Lukaku fired a point blank header straight at Pepe Reina when he really should have scored. There was even an argument thet Liverpool could have been reduced to nine men after Jonjo Shelvey’s lunging tackle on Ramires (that inexplicably did not even merit a foul) and Luis Suarez’s forearm smash on Ivanovic.
One peculiar legacy of that match, though, has been the knee-jerk reaction of the press. John Terry had a poor game; certainly his poorest of the season but one that was an aberration rather than a regular occurrence. Yet that has not stopped journalists leaping to the conclusion that the the hitherto imperious defender is now finished and unworthy of a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad. Now we all know that there is an agenda within the British media regarding Terry and there can be no arguing that he has made a rod for his own back with his off-field antics. His spat with Anton Ferdinand that has precipitated accusations of racism and a forthcoming court case have also provided more ammunition to his detractors but until that case has been proved it would be nice if journalists’ prejudices were put aside and it was his performances rather than his personality that was focused on.
Yes, he had a shocker at Anfield but he has been utterly brilliant in the second half of this season, playing through the pain barrier twice a week to answer his team’s call. It is no coincidence that his absence through injury coincided with the disastrous run of results that cost Andre Villas-Boas his job yet one iffy performance and he has been written off.
Contrast that with the media reaction to Andy Carroll’s last 120 minutes of football. Admittedly, the £35m striker scored a good goal at Wembley after coming on as a substitute to give Liverpool hope and he followed that up with a decent performance against a makeshift Chelsea team at Anfield though failed to get his name on the scoresheet. However, such has been the ensuing clamour for him to lead the line for England at the European Championships next month that one would assume he had been on a scoring spree of Lionel Messi proportions. One swallow does not make a summer just as one bad day at the office doesn’t accurately represent your abilities but try telling that to the nation’s scribes who have acted as judge and jury on the basis of the most circumstantial of evidence.
If those that pass judgement wanted to criticise those in Blue then there were plenty of others to choose from on Tuesday. Oriol Romeu has suffered since the regime change took place at Stamford Bridge with injury stymieing his progress further. He looked like a fish out of water at Anfield and it is to be hoped that next season he can rediscover the early season form that won him a regular place under Villas-Boas. Michael Essien didn’t cover himself in glory either and could easily have seen red rather than yellow following a reckless challenge on Carroll in the first half. It would be a surprise if he did not start in Munich, due to the raft of suspensions and injuries, so let’s pray he can turn back the clock ahead of the biggest game of the season. Ross Turnbull also proved that either Thibaut Courtois must be recalled from his successful loan spell at Atletico Madrid or a new back up goalkeeper must be sought in the summer with his botched goal kick routine effectively sealing the team’s fate.
But let’s put such negativity to one side and focus on the positives. Didier Drogba has once again shown his immense worth to the club with yet another strike on the hallowed turf at Wembley. It is incredible to think that Sunday’s match with Blackburn could be the last time we see him at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player with his contract situation set to expire and no resolution having been reached over a new deal. Twitter has seen a campaign gather pace for a minute of adulation from the supporters in attendance in the 11th minute in honour of the giant Ivorian as it could be the last chance to say goodbye to one of the all-time Chelsea greats for those not lucky enough to be going to the Champions League final.
With Roberto Di Matteo’s future far from certain and other players likely to be leaving, tomorrow could be a day of emotional goodbyes and I shall definitely be joining in the heartfelt choruses for our departing heroes.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell