SoccerMatch Report

Virgil van Dijk and Caoimhín Kelleher shine in Liverpool’s Carabao Cup win

Ireland goalkeeper keeps Chelsea at bay as Van Dijk strikes late in extra-time to seal victory

Carabao Cup Final: Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1 (aet)

When Liverpool won the corner towards the very end of extra-time that would prove decisive, Jürgen Klopp applauded and just found himself smiling at the romance of it all. Depleted by a host of injuries, the manager had introduced a host of untested young players but here his team was, fighting until the last breath. They had been the more dangerous one in the extra period.

Klopp’s scriptwriter had something left, the detail to ignite his quest for four more trophies before he rides off into the sunset at the end of the season. The substitute Kostas Tsimikas swung over the kick and there was Virgil van Dijk, running away from Axel Disasi, to glance home with his head. The Liverpool captain had seen a header ruled out in the second half of normal time after a lengthy VAR intervention. There was no denying him or his team on this occasion.

Klopp’s smile was really something now, the celebrations wild upon the full-time whistle shortly afterwards, his punches to the Liverpool supporters heavy on emotion and it was Mauricio Pochettino who had the red eyes, the bitter regrets. The Chelsea manager had watched his team recover from a sloppy start to create the chances to have won in normal time. Conor Gallagher did not deserve to be on the losing team and nor did Cole Palmer. But they were. There would be no triumph to spark the Pochettino era.

The history was always going to be a part of it, the bad blood that has bubbled between the clubs for two decades or so, taking in those epic Champions League knock-out ties in the mid-to-late noughties and the six previous finals, most of them domestic ones.


The team news was also massive, mainly from a Liverpool point of view. If Pochettino continued to miss Reece James, it was otherwise his best available XI. Klopp, by contrast, had counted 11 absentees, including some big ones – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez.

Chelsea had lacked conviction at the outset. They looked nervous, making errors, Liverpool settling smoothly as if to reinforce a theme. Many of their parts were different but the patterns, learned over the years under Klopp, would not change. Chelsea measured the early running in slips, loose touches and passes; desperate fouls, too. They would grow.

The moment when they announced they were in the contest came when they created the first clear chance on 21 minutes. The build-up was lovely and when Gallagher crossed low and Raheem Sterling’s first touch was poor, the ball broke perfectly for Palmer. Caoimhín Kelleher saved his shot brilliantly at close quarters, Wataru Endo jumping into a block to deny Nicolas Jackson on the rebound. Klopp was always going to start the Ireland international, regardless of Alisson’s fitness.

It was entertaining, jammed full of incident. For the first time in this season’s competition, VAR technology was in use and Moisés Caicedo was fortunate it did not recommend action after he stamped late into Ryan Gravenberch midway through the first half of normal time, causing the Liverpool midfielder’s ankle to roll horribly. Gravenberch departed on a stretcher, the reshuffle seeing Joe Gomez come on at right back, Conor Bradley stepping into midfield. It was Gomez versus Sterling for a time, reviving memories of their bust-up on England duty.

Chelsea were a hair’s breath from taking the lead on the half-hour, Jackson setting up Sterling for the tap-in but the centre forward was seen to have moved just too early on to Palmer’s pass, the assistant’s in-play decision upheld by the VAR.

Liverpool had their first-half chances, mainly through the relentless Luis Díaz. He had two early efforts and it was his smart pass that teed up Bradley in the 45th minute; when Bradley shot low, Levi Colwill made a huge block. A little before that, Cody Gakpo had risen to guide a header from Andy Robertson’s cross against the post, with Djordje Petrovic rooted.

The temperature rose. It was a gripping spectacle. Chelsea might have scored at the start of the second half only for Enzo Fernández to try a flashy back-heel instead of a simple lay-off for the unmarked Palmer following a Gallagher cross. Fernández got it all wrong.

Then Liverpool thought they had broken the deadlock, red flares lighting the scene behind the goal after Van Dijk had powered home from Robertson’s free-kick. The VAR, though, would spot that Endo had blocked off Colwill from an offside position. Colwill had been a part of the marking detail on Van Dijk.

Chelsea sought to make the most of their reprieve. It was no exaggeration to say that they dominated until the end of normal time, throwing men forward, running on adrenaline. Disasi got himself into a muddle at the wrong time after Colwill had glanced on a corner while Gallagher would flick a Palmer cross against the far post.

Gallagher was everywhere, on a mission to make the difference while Palmer’s smooth movement and silky touches were easy on the eye. Gallagher’s big chance came on 85 minutes. Played in by Palmer, he was one-on-one with Kelleher. The goalkeeper was out quickly to save, just as he did from Palmer and the substitute Christopher Nkunku in the last knockings of normal time. Gallagher had also lashed another shot off target. When he was withdrawn in extra-time, he had nothing left to give.

Klopp’s substitutions highlighted the stretch on his resources and his faith in his the club’s academy. He finished with Bobby Clark and James McConnell in the No 8 positions and Jayden Danns as the No 9. Jarell Quansah would also come on in central defence.

Liverpool pushed again in extra-time. The depth of their resolve was extraordinary. Danns, who had only 10 minutes of first-team football before this, almost caught out Petrovic with a header at the beginning of it while the Chelsea goalkeeper somehow kept out a Harvey Elliott header in the 115th minute. Penalties looked inevitable. Enter Van Dijk. – Guardian

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