Chelsea and Liverpool go into the big game at Wembley as two teams that have under-achieved this season – despite the two heavyweights reaching four finals between them. This final is going to be a pivotal moment for both clubs.
Based on league form, both sides will not recall 2011-12 with relish. Indeed, both are poised to have their worse final placings for some years, with Liverpool hovering perilously close to mid-table mediocrity and Chelsea set to have their poorest season since the Roman empire was built.
Both managers have much resting on this game. Kenny Dalglish has been under pressure for Liverpool’s lack lustre league showing, despite winning the Carling Cup. Muterings around Anfield Road suggest that “King Kenny” may get moved “upstairs” in the summer, making way for a younger coach more in touch with the present day. Certainly Dalglish’s handling of the”Suarez affair” hinted that he was not in sync with current thinking.
Dalglish is likely to have all his big guns back for the final but his big decision will be around his front line. Will he pair Andy Carroll with Luis Suarez or will the Uruguayan be employed as a solitary striker? I expect Dalglish to opt for two up front, hoping that Chelsea’s injury-hit back line will find Carroll’s physique a handful.
Chelsea also have a striking dilemma to solve. Fernando Torres has come alive in the goalscoring stakes in recent weeks and Roberto Di Matteo must decide whether to play the talismanic Didier Drogba – he loves Wembley, after all – or hope that Torres will write a fairy-tale finale against his old club. I think Torres will be kept on the bench with the aim of using Drogba to soften up Liverpool. Chelsea will certainly have the quartet of players who will miss the Champions League final on May 19 – John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles – in their line-up. They will be highly motivated.
Probable starting line-ups:
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Lampard, Essien, Meireles, Mata; Drogba
Liverpool: Reina; Johnson Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Henderson, Gerrard, Spearing, Downing; Carroll, Suarez
Pre-match prediction: Chelsea to win 2-1 with Torres coming off the bench and scoring the winning goal (!). Di Matteo to be given the Chelsea job (until Guardiola comes off his self-enforced break) and Dalglish to step aside in the summer.