FA Cup final: Key men - Drogba, Gerrard, Mata, Suarez and Dowd
A key reason for football's popularity is its unpredictability. Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres have been heroes for their respective clubs in the run-up to Saturday's Budweiser-sponsored FA Cup final, while Tottenham will argue that the key man in their semi-final defeat against Chelsea was not wearing a Spurs or Blues shirt.
Here, Total Football looks at five men who could play a pivotal role in deciding who lifts the FA Cup at Wembley on Saturday evening.
Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Veteran Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has plenty of reasons to be feared, but none more so than for his outstanding record at the new Wembley. The Ivory Coast talisman bagged his seventh goal at the rebuilt home of football when he put his side ahead in the the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham with a stunning volley and under interim Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo, he has found a new lease of life.
The pace and power has stayed with him, despite his advancing years, and his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play has seen him outlast the likes of Hernan Crespo, Nicolas Anelka and Andriy Shevchenko at Stamford Bridge. He also enjoys playing in the FA Cup final as three of his seven goals at the new Wembley have come at that stage of the competition.
Drogba's physical presence could be a key factor in the final, and the striker has revealed that he has tried to model himself on another great striker of the Premier League era - Alan Shearer. “People say I bully defenders but this way I play is something I have learned over the years," he said. “When I came here I didn’t know I had that game in me. I learned that and adapted to the Premier League and the way football is over here.
“You have to adapt your game to the physical condition of the other players here, to the pace of the game. I think I managed quite well. But I did model myself on Shearer because I had the chance to play against him in that UEFA Cup semi-final in my last year at Marseille. He played in both legs and was an example for me. All the Marseille defenders said how difficult it was to mark him so I had to learn from him. I know some people think I did the same thing to Newcastle but I had different qualities back then and had to change.”
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
'Mr Liverpool' needs no introduction to anyone in the English game. The 31-year-old has been the star player in the Reds side since his arrival into the first team arena in 1998 and often pulling his side through games single-handedly, he is widely regarded to be up there with the greats who have worn the Liverpool shirt.
Ironically, it was Chelsea who nearly tempted him away from Anfield in 2005, but his commitment to the cause has never waned and he has been heavily involved in everything good that has happened to the Reds in recent years. And that includes his wonder goal in the 2006 FA Cup final, where he scored with a trademark effort from distance to snatch a last-gasp equaliser against West Ham, with his side then going on to win on penalties.
Gerrard has already accomplished a lifelong dream in leading his boyhood team to a cup final victory at Wembley. But February's League Cup triumph, which ended a wait for silverware of six years, is not enough to satisfy a player who has also lifted the Champions League trophy.
Having tasted the atmosphere of the new Wembley twice already this season, Gerrard is looking forward to another return against Chelsea in the final.
“Wembley cup finals are magnificent occasions," he said. "I've been there as a supporter and as a player. I've experienced both the old and the new Wembley and I can tell you it’s a very special place. You walk out and are hit by the number of people there. It's new and it's modern but the buzz is just the same as it was. When growing up as a kid, I dreamed about playing in cup finals at Wembley. Then when I became captain of Liverpool, I dreamed about leading the team out there.”
Juan Mata (Chelsea)
Up until his move to Chelsea, Juan Mata had lived in the shadows of stellar Spanish midfielders Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas. But his time in London has brought the 23-year-old into the limelight and he has quickly become an essential part of the Chelsea side.
His Spanish roots are obvious, he began his career at Real Madrid before joining Valencia, as his ability to keep the ball and eye for a pass have helped unlock several defences this season. And he has taken a particular shine to the FA Cup in his debut campaign in England, scoring four goals in his six appearances, including some important ones. He netted the winner at QPR in the fourth round, got his side on the way to their fifth round replay win at Birmingham City and got the contentious second of Chelsea’s five in the semi-final against Tottenham.
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
When Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez levelled the scoring at 1-1 in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton he joined an elite club. Not many Liverpool players have bagged against their Merseyside rivals in the FA Cup at Wembley and Suarez is now one of four members of that exclusive club along with Ian Rush, John Aldridge and Craig Johnston.
There is every reason to suggest that the 25-year-old could go on to emulate the scoring feats of Rush as he is equally capable of scoring a wonder goal or a tap-in. Suarez also creates opportunities for his team-mates and his mazy dribbling and trickery has created plenty of goals in his 15 months at Anfield. He has enjoyed playing in this season’s FA Cup, having scored three times in his three appearances, with the crowning moment that equaliser against the Toffees.
Phil Dowd (FA Cup final referee)
Referee Phil Dowd insists that officiating the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool will be the pinnacle of his career to date. The 49-year-old will take charge of the Wembley showpiece for the first time, having previously refereed the 2010 League Cup final and 2011 FA Community Shield while also being fourth official at the 2006 FA Cup final.
“I was honoured and privileged when I found out,” said Dowd, a former miner from Staffordshire who has been a referee for 28 years. “You obviously hope as a referee that you might one day be considered for the FA Cup final, so it will certainly be the highlight of my career so far. I would never have thought in my wildest dreams when I first started refereeing that one day I'd be refereeing the FA Cup final. Watching the final as a boy was something I always loved to do.”
The prestigious final comes at a tough time for officials, with decisions dominating the media headlines of late. Chelsea’s 5-1 semi-final triumph over Tottenham will be remembered just as much for the powerful performance of Drogba and co as it will be for referee Martin Atkinson’s incorrect judgement that Juan Mata’s strike crossed the line for the Blues’ crucial second goal. Dowd will hope to avoid the spotlight on Saturday and let the game do the talking.