Chelsea v Liverpool: Pictures
Liverpool have won the Carabao Cup after a thrilling Carabao Cup final ended in a penalty shootout at Wembley.
Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel had met several times in their Bundesliga career but this was the first final between the two German coaches, representing a chance to lay down a marker for the rest of the season.
Both sides served up an absorbing first half of football that featured chances at both ends and a highly engrossing midfield battle.
In the second half, Joel Matip thought he had put Liverpool ahead only for the goal to be chalked off by VAR for offside against Virgil van Dijk. Chelsea then head the ball in the net through Kai Havertz, but Timo Werner was ahead of play in the build-up.
Both sides had chances to win it late on but it was a fitting end that this close encounter went to extra-time and penalties.
Chelsea brought on Kepa Arrizabalaga for the shootout in the dying seconds but it proved to be a bad omen as Liverpool won 11-10 on penalties after the goalkeeper blazed over the bar.
Express Sport assesses the five main talking points from the Carabao Cup final at Wembley…
Kepa pays the penalty
Chelsea had Kepa Arrizabalaga to thank for their Carabao Cup success after incredibly seeing three goals chalked off for offside in regulation and extra time.
Timo Werner, Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz all had goals ruled out, while Liverpool saw Joel Matip’s effort disallowed by VAR.
After those chances missed, it came down to penalties and Chelsea made their move, brigning on Arrizabalaga for the shootout. However, the Spaniard barely had a sniff, such was the quality of the efforts before him.
With all 21 penalties previously struck away, it was down to Kepa to score against his goalkeeping counterpart Kelleher to keep the shootout going.
But the Spaniard leaned back and skied it over the bar, making Liverpool Carabao Cup winners for a record ninth time. Now it can be said that while Arrizabalaga is an expert at saving penalties, scoring them is not his forte.
Liverpool: The Reds have won the Carabao Cup
VAR intervenes again
The sea of red suddenly became filled with limbs from jubilant Liverpool fans celebrating Joel Matip’s header to put Liverpool ahead.
But their euphoria turned out to be premature as VAR chalked off the goal for offside.
The game had gone without much incident until the 68th minute, when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross found Mane at the back post and he knocked it down for Matip to head home.
But a big part of the well-worked free-kick routine going to plan was that Virgil van Dijk held back Reece James, and he did so from an offside position.
Chelsea didn’t have many complaints at the time, but the replay suggested the VAR officials had got this one spot on after the Dutchman’s interference in play.
In extra-time, it was the London side’s turn to feel aggrieved when Lukaku had the ball in the net and by the finest of margins was adjudged to have been offside.
Still, some would argue that the use of VAR was correct in reaching the right decision by the rules, even if it goes against what a football purist wants to see.
Joel Matip: Liverpool’s goal was cancelled out by VAR
Havertz preferred to Lukaku
When Thomas Tuchel asked the board to sign Romelu Lukaku, the club smashed their transfer record by spending £97.5million to bring the striker in from Inter Milan.
Who would have thought then, that just seven months into his second spell at Stamford Bridge, he would be regarded by Tuchel as an impact substitute when selecting his team for a major cup final.
The German chose his countryman Kai Havertz to lead the line, attempting to justify the decision in tactical terms: “Kai, Christian and Mason are today, from a tactical point of view, from a characteristic of their style, a better fit. It’s very nice to have Romelu from the bench to influence the game hopefully in a decisive manner.”
But the undeniable truth is that Havertz has proved himself to be the man for the big occasion, with winning goals in the Champions League and Club World Cup finals. So far, Lukaku hasn’t.
Havertz was bright in the early exchanges, showing a telepathic understanding with Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic and providing fluid movement in the final third. And they continued to cause problems for the Liverpool backline in the second half, with Havertz a creative force.
The move nearly made all the difference when Havertz saw his header beat Kelleher but ruled out for offside against Werner. From this display, it is easy to understand why Tuchel favours the 22-year-old over Lukaku right now.
Romelu Lukaku: The Belgian was left on the bench for the Carabao Cup final
Romelu Lukaku struggled vs Liverpool
Mendy and Kelleher repay faith
Jurgen Klopp decided to stay loyal to Kelleher by selecting the highly-rated stopper, just as he had in all previous Carabao Cup rounds, ahead of Alisson Becker.
When Chelsea were in the ascendancy early on, the Irishman made an important stop to deny Christian Pulisic from point-blank range, which would have done wonders for his confidence.
In the blue corner, Kepa Arrizabalaga was forced to make way for Edouard Mendy — a decision some may have felt was harsh on the Spaniard.
The 27-year-old has made significant improvements since Tuchel arrived a club 13 months ago and looks back to his best, as shown by his brief spell as the Blues’ number one while Mendy was away at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Edouard Mendy: The Senegalese goalkeeper made a superb stop to deny Sadio Mane
He has also been crucial in Chelsea’s progress to the final, but Tuchel opted to field his strongest XI on the day — and that put Mendy above Arrizabalaga in the pecking order.
It certainly paid dividends when on the half-hour mark, Naby Keita struck from range. Mendy got down well to pushed the ball wide but straight to Sadio Mane who was six yards out. Somehow, the Senegalese stopper leapt to his right and made an incredible save to deny his close friend.
It was Mendy again who came up with the goods, fisting away Virgil van Dijk’s header from a corner in the dying embers of the game to keep the score level. Kelleher then made a fine stop to deny substitute Lukaku in stoppage time.
On the day, neither manager will go home thinking their goalkeepers failed them after brilliant displays from Mendy and Kelleher.
Luis Diaz: The Colombian impressed for Liverpool
Diaz shines on Mane and Salah’s off day
If Liverpool can be glad about one thing today, it was that their new £37m signing Luis Diaz from FC Porto looks to be another shrewd piece of business from the club’s recruitment team.
The Colombian oozed confidence with every touch as he danced around Chelsea’s defence, often cutting inside to find his team-mates and switching flanks with consummate ease.
The 25-year-old was lively throughout the first half and drew fouls from N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpillicueta, showing Klopp how he can be a first-team fixture for the coming years.
Sadio Mane’s incredible miss with the goal gaping would have done him no favours in that regard, while Mohamed Salah looked jaded after a long season so far for the Egyptian.
Incredibly, the pair were playing together in the League Cup for first time and it showed, with several moves breaking down in the first half.
The winger’s movement, particularly in the second half, caused the Blues a headache and he had his chance to put Liverpool ahead before Mendy denied him.
If this is a preview of what he can offer the Merseyside club in the coming years, he could prove to be just as devastating as Mane and Salah have been.