Champions League Final: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (aet; Manchester United win 6-5 on penalties)

Match reports

The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Even predictability can carry its trace of surprise. The Champions League final did go into extra-time, but there was no protest over grinding stalemate. There was also drama in the final minutes of extra-time with Didier Drogba shown a red card. Manchester United could not overcome the 10 men of Chelsea in those remaining minutes, however, and in the early hours of the Moscow morning the agonising ritual of penalties decided the match.”

The Times, Martin Samuel: “After 120 minutes, two goals, 14 penalties, one stupid sending-off and a night that will never be forgotten, United were European champions. Again. Chelsea never have been, and after coming so close here, the blue-clad fatalists trudging despairingly through the Muscovite rain may believe that they never will be…”

The Independent, Sam Wallace: “It was a truly remarkable night, one that will live in the pantheon forever and quite possibly scar the psyche of every Chelsea fan who witnessed it. In the Russian roulette of the penalty shootout, John Terry had only to beat Edwin van der Sar with the last penalty of 10 to bring the European Cup to the club he has been at his entire career. When Terry slipped and shot wide, Roman Abramovich slumped back into his chair. £578m does not buy a man immunity to the cruelties of this game.”

Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “For the vanquished Avram Grant, Chelsea’s coach now faces an awkward meeting with the club’s benefactor, Roman Abramovich, who so craved lifting the trophy on Russian soil. For the defeated dressing-room, questions will inevitably intensify over the future of Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “Making history with a first Champions League Final appearance, Chelsea lost out on penalties to Manchester United after a penalty shootout concluded an enthralling 120 minutes of football at the Luzhniki Stadium.”

The goals

26′ Ronaldo 1-0
43′ Lampard 1-1
Penalty shoot-out 6-5

The good

  1. Second half and extra time. Manchester United dominated the first 42 minutes and we were fortunate to go in level at half time. Frank Lampard took his 43rd minute goal well but there was a touch of luck in the build up. The goal revived us and we showed great character after the break, so much so that it became a one-sided affair for a while and United were forced into trying to hit us on the break. Players that had performed poorly in the first half, in particular Claude Makelele, Michael Essien and Joe Cole, imposed themselves on proceedings and it looked like there was only going to be one winner. But on this occasion the footballing gods were heartlessly cruel – both Lampard and Didier Drogba struck the woodwork, and John Terry did likewise after losing his footing as he struck what would have been the winning penalty kick in the shoot-out. So it goes.
  2. Frank Lampard. Became the first player to score in all four knock-out stages of the Champions League; and for the umpteenth season running took his goal tally to 20 or more. He has played some inspired football under the toughest of circumstances in recent weeks and a Champions League winner’s medal would have been fitting reward – but it wasn’t to be. We can only hope that he extends his contract in the summer and finishes his career at Stamford Bridge. A bona fide Chelsea legend.
  3. Ashley Cole. A bit slow out of the blocks, as were most of the team, but once he recovered from his shaky start he was one of the best players on the pitch. Alex Ferguson was wise to the fact that Cole likely would have marked Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game, so that particular job fell to Essien who struggled in the first half but improved considerably in the second.
  4. Petr Cech and John Terry. Cech’s superb double save in the first half kept us in the game. Terry was back to his imperious best just 10 days after dislocating his elbow.

The bad

  1. First half. Ferguson sprang a surprise and fielded a 4-4-2 formation with Ronaldo wide left and Owen Hargreaves wide right, no doubt in an effort to exploit our narrow midfield of Lampard, Ballack and Makelele. It worked. Essien, once again deployed (wasted?) at right-back, couldn’t cope with Ronaldo’s pace and trickery, and the inevitable happened in the 26th minute when the Portuguese got clear of him in the box and headed home a Wes Brown cross. While United’s extra width played a part in their first half superiority, they were aided by some poor performances on our part, especially from Makelele, Malouda and Joe Cole. Ferguson’s men had several more chances to put the game out of our reach before half time but Cech was in inspired form and kept us in it.
  2. Didier Drogba. Not his overall performance because he once again fought a decent lone battle up front against what many pundits consider to be the best central defensive partnership in the Premier League, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and oftentimes he got the better of them. No, what irked me was his sending-off. For reasons only known to himself, Drogba feels the need to get involved in every spat on the pitch. Quite what happened between Carlos Tevez and a few of our players is still unclear to me, but there was no need for Drogba to get involved. While Vidic probably deserved a slap, for Drogba to do it under the nose of the referee in the biggest game in the club’s history, well, it was nothing short of madness, especially as he would have played a key role in the penalty shoot-out which followed soon after. It was a sending off offence and I’m afraid he got what he deserved. I just hope it wasn’t his final contribution to the Chelsea cause.
  3. Petr Cech’s record in penalty shoot-outs. I believe he has now faced 14 penalties in three shoot-outs and only managed to save one, and even then Ronaldo made it pretty easy on him. Cech is an outstanding shot stopper in open play but doesn’t seem to have what it takes to regularly save penalty kicks, whereas Carlo Cudicini does.

Man of the Match

Frank Lampard, for all the reasons listed above. He was easily our best player over the two hours. The good news is he’s going to start contract talks on his return from England duty.

Final thoughts

Another rollercoaster season comes to a close. It was a fitting game to end what has been an emotional 10 months. While we achieved a great deal more than expected following the departure of Jose Mourinho, you can’t escape the fact that we finished the season trophyless for the first time in four years. Last season, despite all the problems with injuries, a small squad and lack of transfer funds in the January window, Mourinho managed to win both domestic cups; Avram Grant, who has done well in the circumstances, finished with nothing.

This isn’t a criticism of Grant, it’s fact: a team of our calibre with the backing of one of the world’s richest men should be winning trophies every year. Close but no cigar ain’t good enough. Grant promised much when he took over in September 2007 but ultimately he failed to deliver. Some have gone so far as to say that the season was an unqualified success. I just don’t agree; expectations are such that finishing second doesn’t represent success, although, to be honest, those expectations (amongst fans, anyway) nosedived when Grant became manager. (Did I just contradict myself?)

I like Grant and the press likes Grant (although he’s in danger of becoming the media’s plucky underdog, the nice guy who never gets the girl, as it were), and I wouldn’t be upset if he was given another season to prove himself. But in the long run I don’t feel he’s got what it takes to make Chelsea the best and most popular side in the world. I firmly believe he’ll be replaced as manager this summer and probably return to a director of football type role, and I’ll take comfort in knowing he’s still around. We’ve got to know him these past eight months and he comes across as knowledgeable, genuine, funny, if at times slightly deluded. I’m sure he’ll play a part in Chelsea’s bright future.

As for the game itself, it was a typically enthralling, intense encounter between two quality English sides, the best two in the country – and it was a far, far better game than last year’s FA Cup final, except for the result, of course. Mind you the penalty shoot-out damned well nearly killed me – I was close to vomiting and felt like I was going to pass out when Terry walked up to take his spot kick (Chelsea Football Club will be the death of me, guaranteed). Once Terry missed I knew that was it and seemed to accept that United’s name was on the trophy. I was distraught but strangely zen at the end. For what it’s worth, and this isn’t bitterness at losing, the best team over 120 minutes didn’t win. But as is so often the case, the better team doesn’t always win cup competitions. There’s always next season.

Oh, and I am retiring the 2005/06 John Terry no. 26 centenary home shirt I wore yesterday. It seems fitting (and it doesn’t fit me like it did three years ago).

Keep the Blue flag flying high.

Related links