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Chelsea 0-1 (AET) Liverpool: Blues lose Carabao Cup final at the death



(Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Chelsea are Carabao Cup bridesmaids once again after slumping to a late Liverpool goal in extra time on Sunday afternoon.

A Virgil van Dijk header in the 28th minute of added time was enough to seal the trophy for Jurgen Klopp, with Mauricio Pochettino’s young side unable to banish the Blues’ demons from Wembley occasions of recent.

A succession of early fouls from the Pensioners via crunching tackles from Levi Colwill and Moises Caicedo made for a nervy start, although the resulting free kicks came to nothing. Chelsea stopper Djordje Petrovic also had to be alive to a looping header from Luis Diaz within the first ten minutes, following a nicely worked move from the Merseysiders.

The Serb was called into action twice in quick succession thereafter. Alexis Mac Allister let fly from thirty yards, but it was right down Petrovic’s throat. A flashed drive at the near post from Diaz required an altogether more exerted effort from the former New England Revolution man to get down low and get a strong hand to it.

The Blues were extremely unsettled under the Liverpool press early doors, leading to dangerous opening after dangerous opening for the Premier League polesitters. In particular, Chelsea’s full backs were guilty of failing to control the ball – under pressure or otherwise – on a number of occasions.

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Out of nowhere, Pochettino’s side sprung their first advance. Conor Gallagher’s early ball into the area found Raheem Sterling, whom was unable to get a good connection on the bouncing ball straight away. Eventually it was poked towards goal by Cole Palmer, but the outstretched Caoimhin Kelleher fashioned a superb point blank stop. Nicolas Jackson took a wild swing and a miss at the rebound, which ended up towards the corner flag.

The media had dined out on Liverpool’s injury woes before the match and the addition of Ryan Gravenberch to that list midway through the first half ensured that narrative would continue. A slip from Moises Caicedo saw the Dutchman come off worst, leading to him being stretchered off and Joe Gomez introduced in his place. Jurgen Klopp raged at the referees, keen to see the man who rejected him in summer dismissed from the occasion. The video assistant referee adjudged the incident to be an accident.

VAR was called into action again five minutes later. Gallagher played Jackson in down the right and he found Sterling for an easy back-post finish. The offside flag went up, and from an angle at which it was impossible to judge the lines, the on-field decision stood. Shades of Romelu Lukaku’s perfectly legal yet ruled out goal from the 2022 edition of this showpiece.

A real game had broken out at Wembley, with the Reds next to roll the dice. Petrovic could only watch as Cody Gakpo’s header pinged off the upright, with the loose ball scrambled away by captain for the day Ben Chilwell.

There was to be danger aplenty again on the cusp of half-time. Diaz was becoming ever more menacing on the left flank, and he picked out Conor Bradley unmarked from all of ten yards. A sea of blue bodies just about managed to block his poked effort at goal, and the sense that Chelsea needed to get into the interval by hook or by crook was growing. That was evidenced by tempers fraying between Chilwell and Bradley, who were both booked for a strongly worded dispute.

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The shrill of the whistle brought a breathless first period – which had everything but a goal – to a close. Mauricio Pochettino needed to rally his men, given they had been on the ropes in the dying embers. Equally the game was still there for the taking, with balance on the scoreline and balance in the personnel on the pitch thanks to the video technology.

Liverpool picked up right where they left off, though. A dangerous ball across the box from Diaz required scooping behind, and from the resulting corner the lesser spotted Wataru Endo unleashed a half-volley that went high, wide and not so handsome.

From Endo to Enzo, the next opportunity fell the way of the Argentine. He started off the move by playing Jackson down the flank. The Senegalese took on Ibrahima Konate before slipping in Gallagher in the box. He found Fernandez, who inexplicably tried to backheel it into the net when there was a man over in a better position. Palmer would then fire comfortably wide from distance a couple of minutes after.

The red side of Wembley stadium erupted on the hour mark, with Virgil Van Dijk towering above captain Chilwell and powering home a header. The fireworks were, however, premature. A lengthy VAR check eventually found there was an obstruction on Colwill as the ball came in, which prevented the young Englishman challenging for the ball. It looked relatively soft, and was a big let-off for the Blues.

The wait for a goal went on – Axel Disasi of all people was next to go close. Gallagher swung in a corner and it made its way all the way through to the Frenchman at the back stick. It ended up rolling off his thigh and into the hands of Kelleher from all of four yards. Gakpo would then blaze an effort at the other end.

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Tension continued to build going into the last fifteen minutes. Some good work from Malo Gusto and Palmer on the right flank saw the latter play in Gallagher, whose instinctive flick towards goal that hit the base of the post much in the same vein as Gakpo’s header had in the first half.

Some quickfire yellow cards for Liverpool was testament to how dicey proceedings were becoming, with nervy challenges flying in from both sides. With five minutes remaining it broke clear for Gallagher with just Kelleher to beat, but the Irishman made himself big and snuffed out the chance. The former Palace loanee would also fire a chance over just seconds later, as Chelsea heads went into Chelsea hands.

The Merseysider’s energy was fading, so Klopp turned to the bench. A trio of changes saw young James McDonnell and Jayden Danns enter the fray with Kostas Tsimikas. Mykhailo Mudryk would also replace Nicolas Jackson as Pochettino responded in kind.

Into stoppage time, and a mixture of divine intervention and inspired heroics from Kelleher denied Chelsea again. Nkunku fired straight at the goalkeeper. Gusto had the second bite of the cherry. Nkunku the third. Then it – somehow – looped up harmlessly into Kelleher’s hands. That was to be the last chance of regulation time, with extra time needed once again in a Chelsea vs Liverpool domestic cup final.

Academy graduate Danns almost had his name up in lights as the hero after the restart, if not for a super reaction save from the impressive Petrovic. Chelsea had slotted into an extremely passive shape and the spritely young Liverpool substitutes were having a fair bit of joy. The warning signs were flashing bright when Harvey Elliott broke free at the back stick and fired into the side netting.

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Into the second half of extra time it went, and the Blues looked increasingly leggy. Only the newly introduced Noni Madueke offered any energy, and looked the most likely outlet for to make something happen. His deflected shot kept Kelleher honest as the clock hit ten minutes remaining. At the other end, Petrovic had to make an unbelievable save down low at the near post from a Harvey Elliott header.

The inevitable was coming, and it was that man van Dijk once again who climbed highest to head the winner. For all the billions Chelsea had spent, a team of fresh-faced Liverpudlians had crushed their dreams.