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EUROPE > Gerrard, Drogba to clash for FA Cup

LONDON - The Associated Press

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Midfield ace Steven Gerrard has put on one of the best performances of his career in the FA Cup final in 2006, when Liverpool has last won the famous English trophy. AP photo

Midfield ace Steven Gerrard has put on one of the best performances of his career in the FA Cup final in 2006, when Liverpool has last won the famous English trophy. AP photo

The FA Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea on May 5 will also mean a clash between Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba, two men relishing big matches.

Seeking to help Chelsea capture a fourth FA Cup in six seasons, Didier Drogba will look to prove once again he is the man for the big occasion when he returns to a ground where he has been prolific in recent years.

Drogba hasn’t started for Chelsea since producing two powerhouse performances in a memorable semifinal victory over Barcelona in the Champions League.

However, the Ivory Coast striker is set to return to the starting lineup on Saturday in place of Fernando Torres against Liverpool at Wembley Stadium, where he has scored in every competitive match he has played - including FA Cup finals in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Along with John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, Drogba is part of Chelsea’s so-called “old guard” who interim manager Roberto Di Matteo has relied on over the last two months to revive the team’s season.

“Chelsea are an experienced team full of quality players,” Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. “It will boil down to the small details on the day, who gets the big decisions and who gets that stroke of luck.
“I don’t think there is much between the teams and I think it is a 50-50 game.”

In Gerrard, Liverpool - bidding to clinch a domestic cup double - has its own player who often saves his best displays for when it really matters.

Arguably the England midfielder’s most rounded display was in the 2006 final against West Ham, when he scored twice - including a stunning last-minute goal to force extra time - before Liverpool eventually won on penalties.

That was the last of Liverpool’s seven FA Cup titles, which is one more than its opponent, who has been England’s cup specialists over the past decade.

“Chelsea at Wembley is something special and hopefully we can keep it special again,” Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said.

“If you are a big club, you keep winning trophies and we didn’t have one last season. We want to have trophies this season -we don’t want to finish the season empty-handed - and we can have possibly two trophies at the end which would make the season absolutely brilliant.”

Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the English Premier League’s top four, ensuring qualification for the Champions League, were virtually extinguished in midweek thanks to a 2-0 home loss to Newcastle.

The Champions League final against Bayern Munich on May 19 offers Chelsea’s other hope of qualifying for next season’s competition but Di Matteo will be insisting his players concentrate on the game in front of them.

“The top four has gone and now the only chance we have to qualify for the Champions League is to win the final in Munich,” midfielder John Obi Mikel said.

“First we have to make sure we win the FA Cup final on Saturday. We can’t let that opportunity pass.”

Di Matteo, who is looking to become the third straight Italian coach to win the FA Cup after Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti in 2010 and Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini last year, also has fond memories of the FA Cup final.

He scored after 43 seconds in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough in 1997 and the winner against Aston Villa in 2000.

Di Matteo can also stake what is proving to be an irresistible case for staying on as permanent Chelsea manager by achieving the first part of a possible cup double this season.

“He’s been a revelation since he took over (from Andre Villas-Boas in March),” Terry said. “He’s got a great rapport with the fans, a great understanding with the players.

“He’s communicating with everyone and things have gone very well for us. He deserves a huge amount of credit for that.” Lampard, Cole and Juan Mata should return to Chelsea’s team with Drogba after all four were named on the bench against Newcastle.

Liverpool played a largely second-string team for the 1-0 loss to Fulham on May 1, which left the club languishing in eighth place in the league standings.

Manager Kenny Dalglish’s top players, such as Gerrard and Luis Suarez, will be fresh for the final.

May/05/2012

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