Liverpool aim for FA Cup swansong
Reds target weary Chelsea at Wembley
Liverpool will bid to put a positive gloss on a lacklustre season on Saturday as they attempt to seal a rare domestic double against bitter rivals Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Kenny Dalglish's return to Anfield last year and the subsequent lavish outlay in the transfer market had fuelled optimism among Liverpool fans that the club were poised to re-emerge as a force in English football.
But a frustratingly inconsistent Premier League campaign has raised more questions than answers about Dalglish's reign, with Liverpool's dreams of a swift return to the Champions League being extinguished weeks ago.
Fulham became the latest side to ransack Anfield on Tuesday with a 1-0 win, a result that leaves Liverpool on course to register their worst record at home since the 1948-49 season.
Yet if Liverpool can overcome a weary Chelsea at Wembley, Dalglish will be able to point to a season that has yielded two pieces of silverware following his side's League Cup win over Cardiff City in February.
While the Premier League remains the priority, the Liverpool manager insists that a domestic cup double is proof that solid progress is being made.
"Any competition you enter, you want to do the best you possibly can in," Dalglish said. "In the league it is 38 games and at the end you finish in a position which tells you how successful it has been.
"In cup competitions there are obviously not as many games and if you get beaten, you are out.
"There is an obsession with the Premier League simply because of what it holds for every club and the value financially for every club, the rewards you get for finishing in the top four and getting in the Champions League.
"But there is a satisfaction from winning a cup competition, which you don't get from finishing fifth or sixth in the league."
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was adamant that while the club needs to "address the problem" of their league form, a win over Chelsea would allow the Merseysiders to look back on the season with pride.
"It is a successful season. This club is all about winning big trophies and the FA Cup certainly comes under that," said Gerrard.
"We will assess the season after the weekend. If we can look back and say we have won two cups, we will be happy."
Saturday's final is the 33rd meeting of the two teams since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and began to bankroll the most successful era in the London club's history.
Chelsea, however, could be forgiven for viewing Saturday's final as an unwanted nuisance, as interim manager Roberto Di Matteo attempts to juggle his resources on three different fronts.
The Blues' hopes of a top-four finish were dealt a severe blow on Wednesday after a 2-0 defeat at home to Newcastle United that left Di Matteo's men four points off the Champions League places with only two games left.
That defeat means Chelsea's passage to the final of the Champions League in Munich on May 19 has assumed even greater importance, with a victory over Bayern Munich now looking their best bet of a place in next season's competition.
While Di Matteo may be tempted to give a rest to key players with one eye on Munich, the Italian insists Chelsea will be motivated by the prospect of a successful day out at Wembley.
But Di Matteo, scorer of the second-fastest goal in FA Cup final history after scoring from long-range in Chelsea's 1997 win over Middlesbrough after only 42 seconds, acknowledged his side's schedule had taken a toll.
"My players have given everything," Di Matteo said. "We've been asking them to push and push and push and they've done well. We'll regroup and pick them up. We've got a big game, a great final, on Saturday and we'll go again.
"We'll look forward to the FA Cup final. It's a great event and the motivation is going to be there."