FA CUP FINAL REPORT: CHELSEA 2 LIVERPOOL 1
The Blues secured our third FA Cup in the space of four years with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Wembley in a game which we dominated for large spells, only to find ourselves hanging on at the death.
Ramires gave us an early advantage when he raced on to a wonderful Juan Mata pass and drilled his shot into the bottom corner, via the aid of a deflection off Pepe Reina's leg.
There was a lack of clear-cut opportunities in the first half, but we doubled our advantage minutes into the second half when Didier Drogba took a Frank Lampard pass in his stride and drove his effort beyond Reina into the far corner, becoming the first player to score in four FA Cup Finals.
It was no more than we deserved, but Andy Carroll threw Liverpool a lifeline after coming on as a substitute when he fired a powerful angled strike past Petr Cech to reduce the deficit.
From that point onwards, it was all Liverpool. Carroll appeared to have equalised when he rose to meet a Luis Suarez cross, but replays proved the ball hadn't crossed the line. Instead, Cech had made a miraculous save in pushing it onto the bar.
It was tense stuff in the closing stages, but we managed to hold on to lift the trophy for the seventh time in our history.
Our immediate attention now turns towards a league game against the same opposition at Anfield on Tuesday, but we will, of course, be hoping to make it a cup double when we take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final two weeks from now.
Roberto Di Matteo made only one change to the side which beat Tottenham 5-1 in the semi-final last month. Branislav Ivanovic, who missed that game through suspension, partnered John Terry in the centre of defence with both David Luiz and Gary Cahill missing out through injury. Didier Drogba was given the nod in attack with Fernando Torres having to be content with a place on the substitutes' bench against his former club.
Liverpool's hero from their semi-final win against Everton, Andy Carroll, started on the bench for Kenny Dalglish's side, while Craig Bellamy, Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing were tasked with supporting striker Luis Suarez.
As expected, it was a cagey opening few minutes with plenty of slow build-up play from both sides without any significant penetration.
Dalglish appeared to have set his side up to stifle the Blues, with Bellamy playing out wide on the right in a bid to stop Ashley Cole from bursting forward and Jay Spearing paying particularly close attention to Juan Mata.
After a slow start, however, the game sprung into life in the 10th minute when the Spaniard was allowed too much room in the middle of the park. His perfectly weighted pass allowed Ramires to get there before Jose Enrique, and as the Brazilian raced through on goal he powered his drive past Pepe Reina at the near-post to give us an early lead.
It was a wonderful start for the Blues, but on reflection Reina will certainly feel he should have done better.
Liverpool's response was almost instant; Glen Johnson, the former Chelsea man, whipped in a teasing delivery which Ivanovic headed into the path of Bellamy, and as the Welshman volleyed towards goal the Serbian did well to divert the ball away with his leg.
Di Matteo's men were looking dangerous on the break, and Martin Skrtel had to be alert to clear on a couple of occasions as Salomon Kalou attempted to release both Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.
The Ivorian was enjoying an impressive opening spell, and he came close to lighting up Wembley with a fantastic solo run, only to be crowded at the crucial moment when he looked set to pull the trigger.
As a spectacle, aside from the goal there had been a lack of real goalmouth action; the Blues seemed content to defend deep and play on the counter-attack, while Liverpool's efforts to utilise the pace of Stewart Downing and Bellamy in the wide areas was proving to be a struggle.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, Ramires, whose opening goal ensured he became the first ever Brazilian to score in an FA Cup Final, won a free-kick after intelligently drawing a foul from Jose Enrique, but Mata's delivery was headed away by Agger as Ivanovic threatened.
John Mikel Obi became the first player to enter Phil Dowd's book for a late challenge on the Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, while a minute later Drogba went close with a powerful drive from long-range.
As the half wore, Liverpool pressed forward looking to restore parity before the break; Luis Suarez, who had been a peripheral figure for most of the opening 45 minutes, failed to connect with Jordan Henderson's back-post header, while Agger joined Mikel in the book for a dangerous challenge on the Nigerian.
Both teams emerged for the second half without any changes to personnel, and Cole, making his 250th appearance for the club, had a fantastic opportunity to double our advantage inside the opening minute of the half, but opted to cross when he probably should have shot.
A minute later the left-back forced our first corner of the game following another lung-busting foray, but while John Terry appeared to be held down by Skrtel, the free-kick was surprisingly given against our captain.
Gerrard felt he should have had a penalty moments later, but the Blues went straight up the other end and took a stranglehold on the game. Mikel fed Lampard who, in turn, played a wonderful ball into the path of Drogba, and the striker drove a sweet left-footed strike into the far corner to make it 2-0 and send the Blues fans behind the goal delirious.
The goal ensured Drogba became the first ever player to score in four FA Cup Finals, while also maintaining a truly remarkable record of scoring in every competitive fixture he's played in at the stadium for the club.
Dalglish's response to our second goal was to replace the largely ineffective Spearing with Andy Carroll, while Kalou went close for the Blues on the break.
Drogba, buoyed by his goal, was beginning to enjoy his evening, while Lampard, who was growing came close to scoring with a free-kick not dissimilar from the one he converted in the semi-final.
Against the run of play, Liverpool were back in it in the 64th minute; Downing dispossessed Jose Bosingwa, and as the ball fell into the path of the substitute Carroll, he smashed his strike beyond Cech into the roof of the net.
It was a goal which Liverpool's play hadn't merited, but equally one that changed the complexion of the match; after having the game all but wrapped up, we were now defending desperately to repel Dalglish's resurgent side who now had their tails up.
Both Johnson and Gerrard tried their luck with volleys from outside the box, while the goalscorer Carroll was proving a constant threat every time the ball was played into the penalty area. Cech then had to save well low down to his right from Suarez after the Uruguayan exposed both Bosingwa and Ivanovic.
Sensing the need for change and to offer our defenders some protection, Di Matteo made our first substitution of the evening; it was no surprise to see Raul Meireles enter the fray against his former employers, but the decision to withdraw the impressive Ramires was certainly met with raised eyebrows by some, although he was appearing to tire.
Dirk Kuyt came on with little under 15 minutes remaining at the expense of Bellamy, shortly before Cech kept his side ahead with a stunning save from a Carroll header, somehow palming the striker's effort on to the underside of the bar, and as the ball bounced down, with the Liverpool fans and coaching staff already celebrating, Ivanovic cleared away. It had been just a couple inches away from crossing the line.
Liverpool were knocking on the door, and when the ball fell to Skrtel, who was unmarked yards from goal, the defender somehow contrived to waste a glorious opportunity, while in the last minute of normal time, Terry made a wonderful block to deny Carroll.
Florent Malouda, scorer of our fifth goal in the semi-final, came on for Mata in the closing minutes as we defended deep and in numbers.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires (Meireles 76), Mata (Malouda 90), Kalou; Drogba.
Unused substitutes Turnbull, Ferreira, Essien, Sturridge, Torres
Scorers Ramires 10, Drogba 51
Booked Mikel 37
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique; Henderson, Spearing (Carroll 54), Gerrard (c); Bellamy (Kuyt 78); Suarez, Downing.
Unused substitutes Doni, Kelly, Carragher, Shelvey, Maxi Rodriguez
Scorer Carroll 63
Booked Agger 44, Suarez (82)
Referee Phil Dowd