Somewhere in Moscow, in a luxury villa, in a special place, Roman Abramovich put non-vintage champagne back in the fridge. Time is hard when he is in his last few billion – and retired for the evening. The era of Vladimir Putin Crony’s domination has come to an end, as it began, eventually leading to the disappointment of Liverpool.
Liverpool, the perennial thorn in Chelsea’s side in Abramovich’s era that now dies as a late death, has swirled around the pitch as their fans left a thick hole in the red smoke on one side of Wembley that hung like smoke in north-west London evenings.
Of course, Abramovich, who won 19 major trophies and two community shields, could not come here. You put £ 1.6 billion on one side and you won’t even get a ticket to the final if you are enabling an aggressive unpredictable war instigated by your political guru. His successor, Todd Bohley, was on the stand instead.
Liverpool won the FA Cup after beating Chelsea in a penalty shootout at Wembley on Saturday afternoon.
As a result, Roman Abramovich will put non-vintage champagne back in the fridge.
But Costas Tsimakos, if there were any unlikely heroes, tucked in the bottom right corner of the 13th penalty of the day, was the similarity of the familiar juxtaposition between the two teams. Earlier in Abramovich’s day, Chelsea dominated the league but failed to beat Liverpool in the epic semifinals of the Champions League, the trophy they really wanted.
At that time, Liverpool could not compete financially. However, over time, they have overtaken Chelsea. They are good run club and high side. And so here, in the best competition – ignore the score-line, focus on the epic ab and flow of the game – Chelsea fell short. Not only that, but it will be a bitter blow, in any case, to lose to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final under exactly the same circumstances.
Under Abramovich in general, Chelsea have found a way to win these set-piece opportunities. Whether it’s winning the Camp Nou and Munich in 2012 or winning the Europa League final in a shorter season, or the recent league titles led by Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte with strategic adjustments.
Abramovich, who won 19 trophies and two community shields, did not make it to Wembley.
Tuchel continued that tradition in Porto last year, against Manchester City’s top team in the Champions League final, where he kept his cool against the uniquely distracted Pep Guardiola. Again, they did so on penalties, in the UEFA Super Cup against Real Villarreal, sometimes hanging. Then there was the FIFA World Club Final, for which they were highly regarded but taken in extra time. They lifted the cup with a penalty in the last three minutes.
Here, too, in a penalty shootout, when they were down 5-4 and on the verge of defeat, Edward Mendy saved his Senegal team-mate Sadio Mane by diving to his left to reject him. Chelsea were on the front foot when Hakim Ziech kicked in the sixth, and Diego Jota had to score to keep Liverpool afloat. He did. Mount Miss then, Alison saving brilliantly, raising a strong arm to his left and picking up a rebound to make sure he jumped and turned towards the goal. If he had celebrated a lot, his good deeds would have been in vain. He set the stage for the moment of glory of Tsimmikas. He captured his moment and Chelsea’s stability was nothing but an impressive footnote.
Here, it soon became apparent that they had found their game. Just as Liverpool were knocked out of the semifinals at Wembley. Literally. The volume from the red side of the stadium was remarkably loud and the noise was carried by the Liverpool team, which tore Chelsea apart. Missing Kai Havertz, Chelsea were already weak and the weakness didn’t seem to be revealed more than it opened 15 minutes later.
It is especially cruel to look at a player known as a weak link and targeted by a world-class team. Trevoh Chalobah falls into that category, like lions coming out of a slow buffalo river. Three times in the first nine minutes, Liverpool allowed Luis Diaz to run or chase after a cross-field ball. Chelsea was helpless. Touchel was screaming from the touchline, trying to help the 22-year-old cope. Indeed, Chaloba had to be punished when Diaz got rid of him for the third time in nine minutes, Mendy saved Chelsea, spreading himself in front of Colombia. The ball bubbled and Chaloba came back to pull it out.
Costas Simakos took 13 penalties a day in the bottom right corner.
Chelsea’s Mason Mount, meanwhile, failed to score from the penalty spot
But Chaloba was not torn to pieces. He did not fold. He endured that terrible opening quarter but then stood strong. And, unlike City, who were 3-0 down at half-time when Liverpool did it, Chelsea remained in the game.
Gradually Mateo Kovasic and Jorgenho established their hold on midfield, conceding possession but leaving more agile and sharp runners at the counter. At the end of the half they created excellent chances, 23 minutes from the cross of Mount the policeman wide shot and Alonso’s weak touch allowed Alison to score in the 28th minute, allowing the Spaniard to score.
Then a big boost for either side facing Liverpool: Mohamed Salah holding his hips, limping in the 32nd minute. For Chelsea, it was the right time to strengthen their growing self-confidence.
The mark of a great coach is a side that changes at half time. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. Tuchel constantly does this. Chelsea came out and beat Liverpool for ten minutes, capturing the lead, capturing each player an additional 10 meters on the pitch. Alonso came close from a pulsic cross and then Alonso hit the cross bar with a free kick from a wide right. Chelsea was not just a game. They were in control.
Naturally, that won’t be long. It was an exciting competition like the Carabao Cup final. If the company known for making Insipid Lager reached the 0-0 Cup final, they would join these two teams and it would be like this: full of round-mouth work, a little crazy and still contains moments of great skill and accuracy.
Tuchel, even by its own extreme standards, grew increasingly insane on the touchline
Chelsea remained in reality till the end of 90 minutes. In the 83rd minute, Luis Diaz scored the goal against the post. A minute later Milner delivered an excellent cross, hanging on a distant post, Andy Robertson running towards it, getting just the touch needed to see Ricochet from the post. In front of him, Liverpool fans seemed ready to burn easily in the excitement of it all.
The extra time came, until now it looked like the final round of the heavyweight boxing competition, the opponents were stunned and shocked by a slow knock-out blow. Liverpool lost Virgil Van Dyke due to injury, and Romelu Lukaku, who was largely ineffective, returned.
Tuchel, even by its own extreme standards, grew increasingly insane on the touchline. We ended 0-0, for the first time since 2005. But the final was nothing like when Arsene Wenger went against all previous trends, parked the bus and went on a penalty shootout to beat Manchester United. After a thrilling final there was a dramatic shootout with its own storyline, Liverpool on the front foot and then Chelsea. However, Liverpool won. And the Abramovich era of the Cup final came to an end, not in the arms of victory but in defeat.