This was the eighth trophy triumph of the Jurgen Klopp era at Liverpool but perhaps none before has been achieved in such trying circumstances. As regulation time ticked down, Chelsea were on top, throwing on expensive signings too and sensing an opportunity. But that was still not enough to thwart Klopp’s team.

The Liverpool manager was devoid of a collection of his star players and his team would come to resemble a reserve side when he sent on a trio of youngsters. Yet, it was Klopp’s kids that came to the fore and their captain that won it at the death.

Virgil van Dijk had already seen a headed goal disallowed for offside but in the 28th minute of extra-time, the talismanic centre-back rose again to meet a Kostas Tsimikas corner and clinch a record tenth League Cup for Liverpool.

The celebrations across one half of Wembley were immense, red flares lit the skies. These triumphs mean more for the Liverpool supporters knowing that Klopp is to leave at the end of the season. His reign is coming to an end but occasions such as these only mean he will depart on a high.

Given that Liverpool are still fighting on three further fronts, the possibilities are endless, but this was a grand way for the Klopp farewell to truly start. Whereas in the other dugout there was much for Mauricio Pochettino to ponder.

His first season at Chelsea has been underwhelming and not really in keeping with the excessive spending that has been undertaken. The first trophy of Todd Boehly’s ownership would have rescued some pride but, instead, it is now six domestic cup final defeats in a row for Chelsea.

Pochettino’s team were on top at the end of normal time and had more resources at their disposal, but somehow they wilted when they should have gone for the kill. The regrets will take a while to subside.

Story of the game

The first domestic cup final of the season had posed plenty of storylines: a silver-lined staging post in Klopp’s farewell tour and also the chance for Pochettino to claim his first trophy in English football. Motivations abounded.

The Chelsea manager knew his team had to take a different approach to the one that saw them defeated 4-1 in the league at Anfield last month. Their recent sequence of three games unbeaten — and improved performances — hinted at a possible corner being turned; and Pochettino stuck with the same lineup as the one that drew away to Manchester City last weekend.

Getty: Glyn Kirk
Getty: Glyn Kirk

Liverpool, playing in a record 14th final in this competition, had seen their favourites tag downgraded by the mounting toll of injuries across their squad. Mohammed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai were all not fit enough to feature meaning, in total, Klopp had to deal with the absence of 11 first-team players.

There were still choices to make, though, and Conor Bradley was preferred ahead of Joe Gomez at right back, with Andy Robertson on the opposite flank, and a front three of Harvey Elliott, Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz led Liverpool’s attack.

Both of the recent two finals between these two sides — in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup in 2022 — were tight affairs and settled in Liverpool’s favour by a penalty shoot-out, the early signs here were of an equally close contest.

Liverpool started and ended the first half on top and their high press certainly unsettled Chelsea early on. Pochettino’s players were noticeably nervy and gave away fouls in dangerous positions. Alexis Mac Allister sent a shot straight at Djordje Petrovic and the Chelsea ‘keeper also saved from Diaz after Chelsea were picked off playing out from the back.

But Chelsea did discover composure and went close on 20 minutes when Cole Palmer drew an impressive point-blank save from Caoimhin Kelleher after Raheem Sterling couldn’t get his shot away. Sterling did have the ball in the back of the Liverpool net after sweeping in Nicolas Jackson’s centre, but the Senegal forward had been marginally offside when played in.

In between those two chances, Klopp had been left infuriated by Moises Caicedo not being punished for a foul on Ryan Gravenberch that saw the midfielder stretchered off and become the latest to enter the Liverpool treatment room.

Caicedo’s studs certainly caught Gravenberch’s ankle, and it was worthy of a yellow card, yet the only consequence was Gomez entering the fray and a reshuffle seeing Bradley move into midfield.

Play and chances began to flow more freely. Robertson slid in to take Conor Gallagher’s cross off Palmer’s toes as a good chance looked in the offing, and then Liverpool’s left-back flighted a delivery that Gakpo headed against the post. Bradley also saw an effort blocked by Gallagher as it remained goalless at the break.

Early in the second half, Palmer struck wide and Enzo Fernandez could not manufacture an opening from close range but Liverpool had their chances too with Elliott’s shot saved and Diaz firing over. And they thought they had broken the deadlock on the hour mark before VAR intervened.

Getty: Chris Brunskill
Getty: Chris Brunskill

Van Dijk was too strong for Ben Chilwell as he guided Robertson’s free-kick into the far corner of Petrovic’s goal, but once the celebrations had run their course referee Chris Kavanagh was summoned to the screen and agreed that Wataru Endo had blocked Levi Colwill from an offside position and thus prevented him from getting back to mark Van Dijk.

After that reprieve, Chelsea came on stronger. A Gallagher corner was flicked on by Colwill but Axel Disasi squandered the gilt-edge chance at the back post. Gallagher side-footed Palmer’s centre against the post and the midfielder was also denied when one-on-one with Kelleher. As both managers made their changes, this felt like Chelsea’s chance.

And it almost came in stoppage-time only for Kelleher, Konate and Gomez to quite remarkably combine to keep Chelsea out as Liverpool hung on for extra-time. Yet, Liverpool were quicker out of the blocks at the restart with 18-year-old Jayden Danns heading over from a Van Dijk lay-up and Elliott scuffing an effort into the side-netting.

Both Noni Madueke and Tsimikas saw shots saved and Elliott also had a header at the back post denied by Petrovic with Danns unable to force home the loose ball. Yet, there was still time for drama at the very last.

With just two minutes of second-half stoppage-time remaining, Tsimikas delivered an in-swinging corner and there at the front post was Van Dijk who soared to head the ball past Petrovic and send half of Wembley into a frenzy.