This intense and highly engaging League Cup final gave the punters everything, apart from a goal, that was until the marathon penalty shootout. One hundred and twenty minutes of absorbing cup football had been played but nothing — not even four goals disallowed for offside — could separate Chelsea and Liverpool.
Even during a shootout that covered every player on the pitch, it was difficult to pull these two side apart. That was until Kepa Arrizabalaga, sent on by Thomas Tuchel specifically to stop penalties, couldn’t find his way past Caoimhin Kelleher. His missed spot-kick presented Liverpool with their first domestic trophy in a decade.
Story of the game
Tuchel showed his ruthless side by opting for Edouard Mendy over cup regular Kepa, there was also a surprising start for Trevoh Chalobah in Chelsea’s three-man defence. Given Kai Havertz penchant for scoring goals when it matters, the Chelsea manager kept the German in ahead of Romelu Lukaku.
There was a late change for Liverpool with Naby Keita drafted in for Thiago Alcántara who picked up an injury during the warm-up. The pictures of Thiago sitting on the sideline with tears was an emotional image. As was the minute of thought and applause ahead of kick-off in support of Ukrainians amidst the war in the country.
Jurgen Klopp had long confirmed that Caoimhin Kelleher would start in goal and the young Irishman was immediately involved. The 23-year-old produced a fine reflex stop to save from Christian Pulisic at close quarters. Chelsea were unexpectedly dominant in the opening stages with Liverpool having to make do with causing their opponents on the counter. Sadio Mane, playing through the middle, mis-headed a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross while Mo Salah fired a free-kick wide from a promising position.
Slowly but surely Klopp’s men started to find their groove with a spell of probing possession. Chelsea were in gratitude to Mendy for an excellent double save to keep the red sea at bay. Luis Diaz brought the ball down so well on the left flank before finding Mane who passed on to Keita. His driving shot was saved at full-stretch by the Chelsea ‘keeper and he was quick enough to deny his fellow countryman, Mane, with a strong left-hand when he pounced on the follow-up.
With the game starting to open up and divert slightly from the cagey finalesque beginning, Chelsea went at Liverpool in the final five minutes of the first half. First, Pulisic shot straight at Kelleher, then, Cesar Azpilicueta slammed an effort over from outside the area. It was a slick move from Tuchel’s side that opened Liverpool up: Pulisic sped forward, passing wide to Havertz whose centre was met first time by Mount but his effort didn’t trouble the exposed Kelleher and travelled wide.
Chelsea’s German attacker was also the creator in their first attack after the interval. His ball into the corridor of uncertainty was asking for a finish, Pulisic couldn’t quite reach it. Moments later it was Pulisic causing damage when he played a lofted ball in to Mount who was occupying space in between Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip. His shot, however, found the inside of the goalpost, letting off some slack Liverpool defending. Tuchel, on his knees, slammed the ground in frustration.
The Chelsea manager would have also wanted more from the next ball that found Havertz; he teed up Mount but Kelleher was equal to the subsequent strike. The chances were flowing now, and at both ends. Mendy’s clearance lacked height and was cut out by Mane, Salah was released. His dinked effort evaded the Chelsea goalkeeper, but not the wily Thiago Silva who cleared off the line.
The hoards of Liverpool fans behind Mendy’s goal thought their side had broken the deadlock once and for all when Matip converted Mane’s header back across goal from a Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick. After the celebrations, VAR rightly indicated that Van Dijk, who had played his part in Mane having a free run at the back post, was offside. Chelsea also saw a goal ruled out with Havertz’s header not even hitting the back of the net before the linesman’s flag was up.
With this intense final coming to the bubble, changes were made: Tuchel sent on Lukaku and Timo Werner in place of Pulisic and Mount while Liverpool made a trio of alterations with James Milner, Diogo Jota and Harvey Elliott all arriving. The chances didn’t relent, and Liverpool had the bit between their teeth. Diaz, sent through down the left, was denied by Mendy. Then a penalty area scramble somehow ended with Chelsea still on terms.
As regulation time wound down, both ‘keepers excelled once more. Mendy pawed away Van Dijk’s powerful header from a corner and that was swiftly followed by Kelleher stretching out a leg to halt Lukaku’s flick at the near post.
Extra time was notable for two further Chelsea goals disallowed for offside. Lukaku appeared in front of Van Dijk as he ran to collect a pass and finish past Kelleher, but VAR’s offside lines told another story. Then Havertz drilled a shot beyond the Liverpool ‘keeper, but he also had been beyond the last defender.
As a penalty shootout became inevitable, Tuchel brought on his spot-kick goalkeeper Kepa, who performed that very task from the substitutes bench in Chelsea’s Uefa Super Cup win earlier in the season.
Both teams traded penalties, a spot-kick marathon ensued. Milner got the ball rolling, and it kept going and going with all takers finding the back of the net. Jorginho took it into sudden death. Kepa got close to Ibrahima Konate’s low effort but the scoring continued. It was then down to the goalkeepers. Kelleher fired his into the roof of the goal. Kepa, up next and the last player standing, skied his over the crossbar.
Chelsea: Mendy (Kepa 119); Chalobah, Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta (James 57), Kante, Kovacic (Jorginho 105), Alonso; Mount (Lukaku 73), Havertz, Pulisic (Werner 73).
Subs (not used): Sarr, Loftus-Cheek, Saul, Hudson-Odoi.
Liverpool: Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold, Matip (Konate 90), Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson (Elliott 80), Fabinho, Keita (Milner 80); Salah, Mane (Jota 80), Diaz (Origi 97).
Subs (not used): Alisson, Tsimikas, Minamino, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.