Two weeks before the historic Champions League victory in Munich, Chelsea kicked off at 5.15pm on Saturday 5 May 2012 in the 131st FA Cup final against Liverpool, with a shade over 89,000 present at Wembley.
This was the Blues’ 11th appearance in the final and number 14 for the Reds, and on offer alongside the glory and the prize money was a place in the next season’s Europa League, which the Merseysiders had already pocketed thanks to their League Cup win a few months earlier.
For the Blues, outside the Champions League places in sixth (two above Liverpool), European qualification was less certain. Unusually, the final arrived with two league fixtures still to fulfil for caretaker coaching team of Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton. One of those would come the following Tuesday – at Anfield.The Wembley showpiece was a last hurrah for the iconic Chelsea core of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Mikel Obi and John Terry as JT was suspended against Bayern and Drogba announced his departure after that triumph.
The Ivorian proved to be a cup final talisman yet again for the Blues, who dominated the match for an hour and took an early and justified lead. Jay Spearing lost possession in midfield and Juan Mata found Ramires with a searching pass. The Camp Nou goalscorer fended off Jose Enrique’s challenge, burst into the box and fired in at the near post off Pepe Reina’s outstretched leg. It was not as sublime as his chip against Barcelona in the recent Champions League semi-final, but equally important.
The royal blue half of the stadium was rocking again seven minutes into the second half after Mikel fed Lampard, who sidestepped Spearing and pinged a clever pass to the feet of Drogba just outside the box.
The striker’s sharp, left-footed shot found the corner to make it 2-0, a record eighth goal at his ‘lucky ground’. The game was looking almost as much a mismatch as dapper Di Matteo in his tailored suit and Kenny Dalglish in his club trackie.
Up to that point Liverpool striker Luis Suarez had been as uninvolved as a breakfast pastry on Sky Sports’ ‘Sunday Supplement’ and Dalglish had seen enough, swapping Spearing for a battering ram: Andy Carroll. Within 10 minutes the former Newcastle striker pulled one back, finding a route to goal round Terry and over Cech’s arms.Then, inside the last 10 minutes, came a moment that stood out even in Cech’s collection of epic moments. Carroll was again the instigator, latching on to a deep far-post cross that had the Chelsea no.1 scuttling sideways. The substitute’s point-blank header was so powerful and well-directed towards the top corner it looked for all the world like an equaliser.Instead, Cech made a simply breathtaking save, clawing the ball off the line at full stretch before the ever-attentive Branislav Ivanovic was at hand to hoik it clear.
Di Matteo let the players hog the limelight for the presentation, but was joyously tossed in the air by them during the usual on-pitch carousing. We did not know it then, but even greater celebrations were just a fortnight away.
Now read about today's FA Cup meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool