As we get ready for another Final on Saturday, I figure the same approach that worked in February should be applied now. So we'll review Liverpool's recent FA Cup Finals, of which there were two. It's funny that both of them in the past decade or so are defined through that era's lead player. But hey, they were both wins, so who cares?
2001's Final saw Liverpool already having one trophy in the bag, and set up a manic week in which they'd contest the FA Cup Final, the UEFA Cup Final, and then the last league fixture which would determine whether or not they'd qualify for the Champions League. Even though I wasn't of age at the time, needless to say the consumption during that week was over the top. i'm sure I wasn't the only one.
The buildup to the Final largely consisted of the media's fear that finally having a Final with two big clubs contesting it would result in both of them canceling each other out, leading to a very dire match. And that's basically what we got. Liverpool in the Houllier days weren't exactly enthralling, and he wasn't in any mode to change that against an Arsenal side that boasted Ljunberg, Pires, and Henry in sparkling form. So Liverpool set up in their usual 4-4-2, which basically amounted to two banks of four and hoping to hit Heskey or Owen on the counter. That would work eventually.
And if Stephane Henchoz wasn't allowed to play as an extra goalkeeper that day, it may have ended very differently. A clear handball in the 1st half stopped Thierry Henry after he rounded Westerveld like he wasn't even there, and a second one that was more questionable denied Ljunberg which was followed by a pretty hilariously weak Henry finish into an open goal. Hyypia could have stopped that one on the line while having a stroke. And he did.
It looked like it was shot in the 72nd minute when a poor Westerveld clearance eventually led to Ljunberg being put clean through, and those were the days when he and Pires didn't miss. Liverpool hadn't ever looked like scoring, they so rarely did under Houllier, and now they were going to have to claw the match back.
Of course, they had Michael Owen then. When Michael Owen was Michael Owen.
Gary McAllistair, Robbie Fowler, and Patrik Berger were all thrown on as second half subs, and the Scot and Czech had roles to play. McAllistair's set piece delivery was badly needed, and it was off a scramble from one of those that Owen netted the equalizer. It seemed he was always finding a way to be in the right spot in those fracases, prodding home when Liverpool needed it. His volley on a ball over his head was much harder than it looked, and he didn't make a mistake. It was as scrappy as it could be, but we didn't care.
After going through the agony of extra time in the same Millennium Stadium in the League Cup Final only a few months before, most Liverpool supporters were bracing to go through that again. After all, why would Liverpool do it the easy way?
That was forgetting that Tony Adams and Lee Dixon at the combined age of 185 were on the pitch.
Patrik Berger sent nothing more than a hopeful punt up the pitch from just outside his own box, and quite simply Owen horsed the Arsenal defense. He outraced Dixon and then muscled him into non-existence, and Adams never had any hope of getting there on time. There was still so much to do, on his wrong foot at a bad angle, and yet his finish was perfect.
It seems so long ago now, and so much has happened with the club since his departure, but you forget how lethal Owen was. He didn't do much else, and he rarely contributed to the build up. But he was always there to finish, and he only ever needed one chance. Almost automatic. This was the match when he finally usurped Robbie Fowler as the club's leading striking light, and pretty much pave the way for Fowler's exit (though God did give us that finish in the UEFA Cup Final a few days later).
Since then, Owen has sullied his rep with Liverpool supporters by a non-effective stay in Newcastle followed by the treachery of going to ManUre, where he may have died. No one knows.
But there was a time. Oh, was there a time.