The day began with tears for the injured Thiago Alcantara, but there were only smiles at the end for Liverpool. The Carabao Cup trophy used to be a permanent fixture at Anfield, and it is back in the Reds’ possession once more.
The first leg of a potential quadruple is in the bag, for Jurgen Klopp and his team. They and their fans went through hell to get there, mind. This will go down as one of the most incredible football matches – never mind finals – in living memory.
Where do you even begin to unravel what we witnessed here today at Wembley? It took 120 minutes and 22 penalties to settle it. But when Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea goalkeeper, sent his spot-kick into orbit at around 7.20pm, Liverpool could finally celebrate. And boy did they.
Kepa had been brought specifically for the shootout, his job to save penalties rather than take them. But the Spain international, a specialist, could do nothing as, one by one, Liverpool’s stars held their nerve from 12 yards.
Caoimhin Kelleher was the 11th Red to do so, burying his penalty with aplomb. What a day this was for the Irishman, the deputy for Alisson Becker who did not put a foot, or a hand, wrong throughout. Kepa’s miss sparked wild scenes. Red smoke filled the north London air as the pyrotechnics were unleashed.
Klopp, his staff and his players sprinted to Kelleher, who celebrated in front of the Liverpool supporters as the Wembley DJ played ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Who says the Carabao Cup doesn’t matter, eh? There was nothing to separate the sides in the two league meetings earlier this year, and this was just as tight a contest, if not tighter. At times, it bordered on farcical.
Chelsea had three goals disallowed and Liverpool one. VAR played its part, and so did the two goalkeepers. Kelleher made big saves from Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku, while Edouard Mendy made an incredible one to deny Sadio Mane. The Senegal star was the Man of the Match by a mile, and he was not even there for the conclusion.
Chance after chance came and went. Mo Salah clean through, denied on the line by Thiago Silva. Mason Mount hit the post and missed another good opportunity. Mendy denied Virgil van Dijk and Luis Diaz. It was relentless, breathless, almost dangerously intense.
Lord only knows what Klopp and Thomas Tuchel went through on the touchline. They embraced during the first half and shared a nice moment when Kepa blazed his penalty over, but their heartrate cannot have dropped below 130bpm here.
And so, Liverpool have ‘their’ trophy back. This is the ninth time they have lifted the League Cup, and only two of those have been settled in 90 minutes. They really are the marathon men in this competition, aren’t they?
There is still plenty of running to do this season, mind. They enjoyed themselves here, but they know that there could be so much more to come. Manchester City are in their sights in the Premier League, and they will fancy their chances of going deep in both the Champions League and the FA Cup, too.
That is for tomorrow, though. Today, it is time to celebrate. Klopp did. He danced a jig to Dua Lipa in front of his adoring fans. Kelleher could barely contain himself, Harvey Elliott grabbed a flare, the passion written all over his teenage face.
Story Credit: Goal.com (with photos from Getty Images)Share on: