All I could think when the referee blew his whistle for extra time was “thank fuck this isn’t us!” I thought Tuesday night was a painful enough experience, but after Liverpool got their away goal, it was game on. First half of extra time, Michael Essien sees his goal ruled out for offside. A minute later, Sami Hyypia fouls Michael Ballack in the area. Penalty. Who’s going to take it? Ballack, who found the back of the net last weekend against us, or Fat Frank, who has possibly been thrown in to the mix prematurely following the death of his mam? Many Chelsea fans weren’t keen on him even starting, fearing he wasn’t emotionally ready for such an important game. He stepped up and put the ball away with ease, giving the advantage back to Chelsea.
Less than ten minutes later, Didier Drogba grabbed his second of the game, seemingly the winning goal for Chelsea. Hyypia is then brought down in the box, right in front of the referee, but he waves play on. This decision will be heavily reflected on considering Ryan Babel scored from distance with four minutes left to play, which could have brought the teams level at 3-3, with Liverpool going through. About time they had some luck not in their favour for a change.
Regardless, after a nervy final few minutes, Chelsea got the result and will be our opponents in the European Cup final. Despite the joy a win over the dippers in the Cup final would bring us, the alternative was too much to bear. These next three weeks would have been agony. Accute excitement mixed in with destroying worry. However, with Chelsea the winners, last night was an evening of continued celebration.
The knowledge that Liverpool will go another year without winning a thing, doomed to yet another season of failure, after coming nowhere near competing for the title, is enough to leave me smiling for a few days yet. However, I think Liverpool’s elimination from the competition only boosts our chances of success in both the league and Champions League. Why?
1. Liverpool have plenty of recent history in the European Cup under Benitez. I’d be far more worried about the tactical threat Benitez posed over Grant. Credit to Chelsea making it to the final, but they’re being lead by a man who couldn’t even win the League Cup this season. His tactics in the final against Spurs were absolutely shocking and I’d much rather see Fergie measure up against him than Benitez, who has been there and done it all before. Not only the manager, but the players too. This would have been Liverpool’s third European Cup final in 4 years. Whilst still a massive occasion, it is nothing in comparison to the Chelsea lads, whose club, in their entire history, have never made this final before, and therefore could be overawed by the whole experience.
2. The title will be going down to the wire, meaning Chelsea’s players will be as physically and mentally exhausted as ours. In contrast, Liverpool have 4th place wrapped up, meaning they could play their reserves in the last two games of the league, leaving their first team fully refreshed and mentally prepared. Chelsea, after playing a gruelling two hours of football last night, have to travel up to Newcastle, who over the past 8 matches have the 4th best run of form in the league. By the time we’re in Moscow, Chelsea will certainly be more physically drained than Liverpool would have been.
3. Chelsea reaching the final might also enhance our league chances. Their players will certainly now have one eye on the final but without having the players of the experience to guide them through it. Giggs, Neville and Scholes have been there and done this before. They know how to secure both the league and European titles in one season and should bestow this advice on our younger players.
Chelsea in Moscow, is this the best result for United?