Well, this was certainly wasn’t as comfortable as a 6-0 win over Leeds United, but the Liverpool Reds are the Carabao Cup champions!
Liverpool FC took the pitch at Wembley Stadium in front of over 85,000 spectators on Sunday to face Chelsea for an opportunity to grab their first silverware of the season, and the 90 minutes of regulation time wasn’t going to be enough to settle this one, or to even see an opening goal. An extra 30 minutes was still not enough, and the teams headed to penalties with a 0-0 scoreline.
The Carabao Cup final brought a number of changes to the Reds starting XI that crushed Leeds United in the Premier League last Sunday, including Jordan Henderson back starting in the midfield and Caoimhim Kelleher taking the net.
Thiago was set to start, but was pulled from the lineup after suffering an injury in warm-ups, dealing a massive blow to the composure and pacing of the Liverpool midfield for most of the first half. The Reds were able to mount a number of chances on counter-attacks, but the control in the middle third for Liverpool left a lot to be desired.
Thomas Tuchel’s squad put Kelleher to work early, facing Christian Pulisic on an opportunity from extremely close range, denying the American the quick opener. Liverpool turned the tables later in the first half. Two rapid-fire shots on net, one at range from Naby Keita and one close-up from Sadio Mane off the rebound, prompted a heroic sequence from Chelsea’s Eduardo Mendy to keep the match scoreless through halftime.
The second half started with Liverpool benefitting from a mix of missed opportunities and a bit of bad luck for Chelsea. Pulisic came up just short of cashing in on a tap-in opportunity in front of an open net, and moments later Mason Mount caught the post on a one-on-one chance against Kelleher.
Jurgen Klopp’s squad had seemingly found the opener in the 68th minute with Joel Matip finishing a headed pass from Mane, but the goal was disqualified by VAR for a foul by Virgil Van Dijk in the build-up.
From then on, both teams had a number of blood pressure-raising opportunities throughout the second half, but the match headed to extra time scoreless despite both teams having nearly two expected goals (xG).
The exhausted squads continued through another thirty minutes of close opportunities, offsides goals, and great goalkeeping. The tired legs wandered until the final whistle and the match headed to penalties, with Chelsea subbing out the heroic Mendy for Kepa Arrizabalaga just before the final whistle.
The first ten rounds of penalties were perfect for both squads, placing the pressure truly squarely on the keepers. Kelleher’s scored with Arrizabalaga jumping the wrong way, leaving it up to the Chelsea keeper to score in a do-or-die situation. He blasted his shot way over the crossbar, finally bringing an end to this spectacle of a match with Liverpool as the victors of the Carabao Cup.
The Reds face a quick turnaround for another busy week, hosting Norwich Cup on Wednesday in the FA Cup and returning to their Premier League title chase on Saturday against West Ham at Anfield.
Caoimhin Kelleher – 9 (Man of the Match)
Kelleher was put to work early on Sunday after earning the start in net, and handled it in stride, denying Pulisic the opener from close range. He registered another save against the American later in the first half at the near post on a play that the Liverpool defense seemed to give up on, believing Pulisic to be offsides, but the flag never went up. Benefitted from a bit of good luck and a number of missed opportunities for Chelsea in the second half. He finished the game with four saves and netted what ended up being the winning shot in penalties.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7
Alexander-Arnold was a force to be reckoned with against Chelsea. Some of his passing in the first half was sloppier than can normally be expected of the Scouser, but cleaning up in the second half saw him finish with five key passes including an excellent free-kick to the head of Mane to set up Matip’s disallowed goal. He really shined defensively Sunday, finishing with a tackle, three clearances, and two interceptions. He was booked for a late shoving match with Kai Havertz.
Joel Matip – 6
Matip showed great instinct to charge into the net to follow through a Mane cross with his head for what was the opening goal before it was disallowed by VAR. Matip looked solid on the ball and defensively, finishing with 81% pass success, winning three of four aerial duels, two tackles, an interception, and two clearances.
Virgil van Dijk – 8
With the last-minute change and subsequent sloppiness in the midfield, van Dijk’s solidity on the backline defensively and his accuracy with long passes provided a much-needed pacing and composure to the Reds. Van Dijk was brilliant throughout in playing Chelsea players offsides, specifically on what might have been the match-winner in extra time off Havertz. He finished with 89% pass accuracy, won a massive 8 of 10 aerial duels, had one tackle and two clearances.
Andy Robertson – 5
Robertson looked lost and disorganized with the ball on Sunday, and it was surprising to see him stay in the entire 120 minutes under such form. He finished with just 75% pass success, zero tackles, and one shot on target and was overall mostly a non-factor in this one with the exception of netting his attempt in penalties.