Liverpool wins 4-1 on penalties.
What can you say about that? Another magical European night at Anfield, another dramatic match culminating in penalty shootout. Another semi-final victory over those hated Londoners, and Chelsea’s third Champions League semi-final loss in 4 years. Chelsea's third successive semi-final loss to Liverpool in cup competition. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s second Champions League final in three years, and the third year in a row the last game of the season will be for a trophy. That should say enough about my state of mind right now.
Liverpool came out with the requisite attacking line-up: 2 strikers in Crouch and Kuyt, Gerrard in the middle, with Pennant and Zenden on the flanks. They looked the stronger team to start the match, and Agger scored the necessary early goal from a set play in the 22nd minute, sweetly side-footing home Gerrard’s centered free kick.
But as it always seemed they would, Chelsea grew in stature. They always looked threatening, and a goal seemed to be coming, even if Mourinho played it safe for the majority of the match. Chelsea lined up in what seemed to be 4-3-3, the formation that had brought them the most success over Mourinho’s first two seasons, with Drogba, Kalou, and Joe Cole up front, but as it turned out, their game was mostly lumping long balls up to Drogba.
However, Drogba, Kalou, Lampard, Obi Mikel and Robben all had chances to carve something out. I have no fingernails left. But through 90 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of extra time, Chelsea could never make the break-through, whether it was down to Reina’s saves or a defender’s (frequently, and surprisingly, Carra) last-ditch tackle. And neither could Liverpool, even with chances of their own, most notably from Kuyt (hit the bar) and Crouch (Cech save with his feet).
Both teams seemed to be playing for penalties by extra time, and surprisingly, I’ve become a lot more confident when watching Liverpool’s shootouts over the last few years. Zenden, Alonso, Gerrard, and Kuyt all scored on their penalties, while Robben and Geremi had theirs saved (only Lampard scored from the spot for Chelsea). Fowler was subbed on with minutes left with an eye on penalties, and he wasn’t even needed thanks to Reina. Although that would have been one hell of a way for God to go out. There’s always the final, though…
There is no way to single out players. Everyone’s my man of the match. They were all wonderful, and when you’re this elated, it’s impossible to even try and pick flaws or play favorites. Not that there were any flaws to pick, and every player needs to be congratulated. Reina is the best in the world at saving penalties. I wouldn’t dream of trade Carragher for anyone, he absolutely epitomizes this club. Agger, aside from scoring the goal, was also awesome in defense, especially after the criticism of him against Drogba last game. Mascherano defended so solidly, was so superb in the holding role, and let Liverpool tick. What a signing. Finnan showed just how much he had been missed, while this was one’s of Riise’s best defensive performances of the season. Gerrard showed up everywhere on the pitch, in both attack and defense. Zenden was miles better than recent performances and showed outstanding character in taking the first penalty of the shootout. Pennant flashed in and out threateningly with moments of brilliance on the right. Crouch and Kuyt put in workhorse performances. Redemption for Kuyt in the end with the final penalty as well, as he hit the bar, had a goal disputably ruled out for offside, and shot straight at Cech in the dying minutes of extra time. So deserved for how hard he worked. Benitez, whose game plan worked to perfection, has to be mentioned as well, along with the entire staff. And the crowd, what a crowd.
It’s hard to even be coherent, if I even am, after a game like this. Games like this are why I laud this sport to my countrymen at every opportunity.
Two Champions League finals in three years. That’s quite an achievement. But not enough has been achieved yet.
Milan? Manchester? Who cares?
Roll on Athens.