The fall-out from the weekend’s FA Cup semi finals will continue for some time but regardless of how poor the refereeing may or may not have been, we now have our finalists.
Liverpool headed to Wembley with just the merest hint of a return to form after scraping through against Blackburn in midweek but went behind to a 24th minute goal from Nikica Jelavic. The Toffees held on until half time but after the teams emerged for the second period, the headlines were stolen by the two strikers who have been the focus of Liverpool's season – Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.
Rumours of Carroll’s return to potency looked extremely exaggerated when he missed the easiest of chances two minutes after the break. After heading Stewart Downing’s cross wide, the Geordie hid his head under his shirt – you might uncharitably suggest that he would have had a better chance of scoring if he’d done this before the ball came over.
Suarez however has had a decent season amidst all the controversy and he certainly wasn’t going to miss the opportunity laid on for him by Sylvain Distin after 62 minutes. Carroll missed another clear chance with 12 minutes to go and if you want to grudgingly give Kenny Dalglish some credit, you could argue that other managers would have hauled the player off before he finally converted the winner four minutes from time.
Liverpool were through but other than on Merseyside, their efforts have already been long forgotten thanks to the drama between Chelsea and Spurs in the other semi.
The first half was generally uneventful and the two sides looked evenly matched but after Emmanuel Adebayor squandered a simple chance, Chelsea immediately made Tottenham pay to send the Blues in with a goal advantage at the break.
The drama came on 45 minutes however as a goal bound effort was blocked on the line by Ledley King before Benoit Assou-Ekotto scrambled the ball away. Much to the fury and incredulity of the Tottenham players, Martin Atkinson blew his whistle and the ‘goal’ from Juan Mata stood.
Spurs pulled one back shortly after through Gareth Bale but capitulated late on as they chased the game. Three late goals from Ramires, Lampard and Malouda sealed the win.
Subsequent replays showed that the ball wasn’t even close to crossing the line and it’s said that Atkinson has apologised to Harry Redknapp. How much this had a bearing on the result is open to debate but the fact remains that the 2012 FA Cup Final will be contested between Chelsea and Liverpool.
As far as the betting for the final is concerned, early prices show Chelsea as favourites at 1.67 to lift the trophy while Liverpool are close behind at 2.20. Much can happen before then of course but it would be impossible to ignore the resurgence of Chelsea under Roberto Di Matteo. The club are now unbeaten in seven games in all competitions and are now threatening Tottenham’s final Champions League slot.
Liverpool meanwhile have endured a poor season that has been masked by Cup success and their form going into this match was abject, despite the win at Blackburn. If they are to stand a chance in the final, Andy Carroll will have to continue this scoring form and prove that he can set up a potent partnership with Suarez.
What has happened at Chelsea? Has the manager been able to inspire his players that much or is it a case that they’re more inclined to play for him than they were the previous boss? Whatever the reasons, momentum is with the London club and if you want to take an early bet on the final then this is where your money should be.