Sunday, June 26, 2022

Chelsea and Liverpool ready to do battle again in the FA Cup final

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 13 May 2022


With everyone in Wembley Stadium as tense as you could get, Kepa Arrizabalaga addressed the ball.

Liverpool and Chelsea could not be separated on February 27, with 120 minutes of play not bringing any goals that had not been subsequently ruled out by VAR.

Yet in the penalty shoot-out, all 20 outfield players scored, as did Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Arrizabalaga, only brought on by Thomas Tuchel for the shoot-out, blazed his spot-kick over the bar and into the jubilant Liverpool fans. Joy that they had won the first trophy of the season, the EFL Cup, coupled with a hint of extra relief that the remarkably close contest had finally been settled and everyone could get on with their lives.

Ultimately, it came down to which goalkeeper could take a better penalty.

That inseparability has been the story of the season whenever Liverpool and Chelsea have faced off, also contesting two draws in the league, 1-1 at Anfield and 2-2 at Stamford Bridge.

On Saturday, they meet for a fourth time this term, and a second under the Wembley arch as they contest the 150th FA Cup final.

Chelsea are looking to settle the score, one of the match-winners from the semi-final against Crystal Palace, Ruben Loftus Cheek, telling ITV Sport: “We saw it yesterday [Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Manchester City]. We want to get them back. Simple as that.

“It was a fantastic game we lost in the [EFL Cup] final. We look forward to getting our revenge.”

Revenge can be quite the motivator, but it won’t be one-sided. While only captain Jordan Henderson remains from 2012, Liverpool will be looking to get Chelsea back for their 2-1 defeat in the Red’s last FA Cup final appearance 10 years ago.

There may not have been much to separate them in games against one another this season, but a relative chasm has opened up in the Premier League since that nervous late winter day.

Second-placed Liverpool now hold a 16-point advantage over Chelsea in third, with the Blues going from a title challenge to sitting just ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham in the fight for the top four, albeit with a Champions League place more or less sewn up after Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Leeds United.

The Reds could also take ownership of Chelsea’s European crown after booking a date with their quarter-final conquerors Real Madrid in the Paris final later this month.

Chelsea’s form since the EFL Cup final was initially solid. That shoot-out loss actually came right in the middle of 12 wins in the other competitions. However, since their 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, Tuchel’s men have played 11 games, winning five, drawing two and losing four.

One other factor that has to be taken into account is the disruption off the pitch, though that seems to be nearing an end with the Todd Boehly-led consortium set to take charge at Stamford Bridge after Roman Abramovich put the club up for sale following sanctions from the UK government in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Liverpool’s form on the other hand has been enough to give them dreams of an unprecedented quadruple, albeit the league is a long shot with City three points clear.

Jurgen Klopp’s team have played 18 games since the EFL Cup final, winning 14 and losing just once. It should also be noted that the defeat (1-0 v Inter) and one of the draws (3-3 v Benfica) came in Champions League second legs where those results still ensured passage to the next round.

Their meetings with Chelsea this season have been tight contests, though. They first met at Anfield in August, an early chance for both to prove their title credentials. A looping header from Kai Havertz gave Chelsea the lead, only for a Mohamed Salah penalty to even things up just before half-time.

Liverpool had 24 shots that day, with seven on target, compared to the Blues’ six attempts (three on target). You could argue this was largely down to the fact Chelsea had Reece James sent off in first-half stoppage time for handball on the goal line that led to Salah’s spot kick, but the hosts had taken nine of their efforts even before that red card.

By January, it was a case of whoever blinked first would surely be out of the title tussle, with City seemingly running away with it. As it turned out, they both blinked, drawing 2-2 in the last game before each would lose key players to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Two of those players appropriately played a big part, with Sadio Mane and Salah giving Liverpool a two-goal lead, before Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic levelled.

Chelsea had more shots that day, 15 to 10, but Liverpool ended with the higher expected goals (xG) total, 1.75 to 1.59.

Those roles were reversed in the EFL Cup final, with Liverpool having 20 shots to 11, both sides spurning glorious chances and falling foul of VAR.

Collectively over the three games, Liverpool had a total of 6.62 xG, bettering Chelsea’s 4.17, with both teams only managing three goals each in 300 minutes (plus stoppage time).

More ruthless finishing will be the name of the game this time around, then, and at the start of the season, you would have looked towards two very obvious candidates.

Romelu Lukaku and Salah were among the favourites to win the golden boot, and both made excellent starts. The Belgian netted four goals in his first four games back after re-signing from Inter, while Salah went even further, scoring 15 goals in his first 12 games of the season.

Lukaku has fallen out of favour since his early form, though, with Tuchel broadly preferring Havertz.

Since the EFL Cup final, the former Manchester United striker has scored five goals in 13 games, though he has started just five of those games. However, three goals across his last two appearances might mean he gets a chance from the off on Saturday.

In the same time, Salah has scored just three goals in 16 games (12 starts), with the only two from open play both coming in April’s 4-0 rout of United at Anfield.

The Egyptian has still managed five assists in this time, so perhaps it is merely a sign he is becoming less focused on his own goal tally, but Klopp could do with him rediscovering his scoring touch.

Thiago Alcantara spoke to Liverpool’s website on Thursday, saying: “[We] understand that we are playing against one of the best teams in the world and we know it will be tight, we know it’s always difficult [against Chelsea].

“They want to take something that we want to take as well. It’s a continuous fight with this kind of team. The best team will win.”

Whether Chelsea or Liverpool end up getting their revenge, there is every chance it comes down to fine margins once more.


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