19 May 2007

Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United

For 116 minutes, the FA Cup final looked a dead certainty to go to penalties. Chelsea strangled the life out of the first half, but United grew into the game. However, neither team had many clear-cut chances; if Jorge Valdano thought Liverpool versus Chelsea was shit on a stick, I fear what he’d have to say about this spectacle. I can’t complain about dropping $25 for pay-per-view, but I am tempted. However, I knew what I was getting into beforehand. I just couldn’t miss the first Cup final at the new Wembley.

At the end of the day, the difference was the Golden Boot winner. Didier Drogba did have a bit to say about Cristiano Ronaldo garnering all the player of the year awards. Drogba definitely was the difference; as he’s proved time and time again, he can turn the game in an instant, out of nothing. Meanwhile, Ronaldo was utterly invisible, unable to force himself on the game in any regard.

Drogba’s goal was a classic striker’s goal. After a neat one-two with Lampard, Drogba snuck between United’s center backs and prettily toe-poked it past an on-rushing Van der Sar. It may have seemed unfair to United, with the game so close for the entirety, but again, that’s what Drogba can do. Vidic and Ferdinand (Vidic especially, what a player he’s growing into) kept him under close wraps for the majority, but give him the space once, and he’ll take it. Given how Drogba started in England, it’s a bit surprising to see how well he’s developed, but I feel secure in saying he’s the best striker in the Premiership right now hands down, healthy Thierry Henry or not.

Throughout the match, Scholes and Rooney were United’s only threats. Pretty much every United chance came from a Scholes pass, which was almost always directed towards Rooney. Neither Ronaldo nor Giggs were able to show their quality, although I wonder if it was any coincidence that Chelsea’s winner came soon after Giggs was strangely substituted. What doesn’t surprise me is that Chelsea was able to dominate possession and eliminate United’s threats from the wings playing in Mourinho’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. I firmly believe Ballack and Shevchenko’s additions have hurt this team, whether the two are in form or not. Chelsea plays best when they line up as they did today, and when they do, there’s little room for either of those players.

I also want to mention the referee, which I usually avoid unless he has a shocker. But credit to Steve Bennett. It pains me to admit it, but I’m frequently of the same belief as Neil Warnock; Bennett is usually more robot than referee, completely by the book with little regard to the flow of the game. It’s usually better than his diametric opposite Graham Poll, but can still stifle a game. However, he and his crew were excellent today. I was a bit surprised when he let Joe Cole off with a warning for a two-footed tackle in the first 10 minutes, but it was a smart maneuver. Bennett kept the game from getting chippy (I do believe it could have gone the way of the Carling Cup), and he and his linesmen made all the right calls on questionable decisions such as Giggs’ “goal” ruled out for barreling into Cech and the many offside decisions. There was one instance where he called back play with United on the advantage, but that was it, and again, credit to him.

When all is said and done, the Blues are probably deserved winners. Straight up, they were the better team, and controlled the flow, style, and tempo of the game. It’s pretty much a catch-22 as to who wins for me as a fan, but if forced to choose, I would prefer a Chelsea cup double rather than a United double. And while I’ve little love lost for the man, it brings a wry smile to my face saying that Mourinho’s game plan clearly won out over Ferguson’s.

One more big game left in the season. Only 97 and a half hours (or so).

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