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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Wembley Stadium

League Cup final talking points, as Chelsea succumb to late Virgil van Dijk winner for Liverpool youths

After nearly six hours of cup final football between these two sides without a goal, Liverpool finally ended the impasse a minute from the end of extra-time through Virgil van Dijk - a colossus throughout who hardly gave Nicolas Jackson an inch all afternoon. His glancing header at a corner broke Chelsea hearts on a day when they came so close to pinching a win against a team who monstered them not so long ago up at Anfield.

So what did we take away from this afternoon of high drama and tension - a game which never lacked for sheer madcap energy and unpredictability? Here are some of the talking points.

Pochettino: Is he forever going to be cast as the Harry Kane of managers. A great coach who somehow never lands any silverware? Strictly speaking that is an unfair comparison, of course, because the Argentinian won trophies while boss at Paris St Germain. But in terms of his time in English management, it has been a blank so far and a run of kind draws gave him a shot at a final, in spite of his team's dodgy form.

He was in the opposition dug out the last time Chelsea lifted the trophy in 2015 and he also finished a runner-up when the north Londoners were beaten by Liverpool in the 2019 Champions League final. His team had big chances to win here but couldn't take them and he must feel cursed right now. But the FA Cup is still there to be won and there can still be mileage in his Chelsea project, if he is given the time.

Liverpool Injuries: This was a good time for the Blues to take on Liverpool. They may have recently lost 4-1 at the home of the Reds but Liverpool were undoubtedly suffering from a loss of a raft of key players. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones and Alisson were all unavailable.

And when Moises Caicedo planted studs into the ankle of Ryan Gravenberch in the first half to end the Dutch midfielder's game, it spelt even more woes for Jurgen Klopp. By the end of extra-time, we were seeing unfamiliar names like Bobby Clark, Jayden Danns and James McConnell entering the fray. But the Blues could not take advantage. It was an opportunity missed.

League Cup history: Liverpool are the most successful side in League Cup history, having won it 10 times. Chelsea are among the best of the rest with five wins, though it will hurt that they have now lost three of these finals in a row - to Man City and Liverpool twice, without managing to score and having taken all three to extra time.

They have developed a habit of playing their part in exhausting finals full of drama, but ultimately no prize at the end of it.

It is also a sixth successive Wembley final defeat when you include the FA Cup losses to Arsenal, Leicester City and Liverpool. Reaching finals remains in the DNA. Winning them is the bit that's been lost.

Chelsea in context of their season: The Blues' season has been almost impossible to judge definitively. Inconsistent doesn't begin to do it justice. Some of the home performances have been truly terrible. But of course there has always been the suspicion that there is a good team in there somewhere.

How could there not be with all that expensively assembled talent? This is a mid-table team striving to become the sum of those pricey parts at the very least. There still appears a way to go on today's evidence.

Comparison to two finals of 2022: We had just completed five hours of football between the two teams over three finals - the previous two also going to extra time - when yet another 'goal' was ruled out. A VAR prompt came that that van Dijk's header from an Andy Robertson free-kick should be chalked off because an offside Wataru Endo was interfering. Van Dijk's time would come, of course.

In the first half, Raheem Sterling put away a Nicolas Jackson cross that was also scrubbed out after a Stockley Park video scan. It seemed the teams were never going to score, no matter how many chances might be created. Cole Palmer had a close-range effort saved superbly by Caoimhin Kelleher. Cody Gakpo headed against a post, Conor Gallagher did the same. Chelsea had chances to settle it before the 90 minutes were up.

Once again, what it lacked in goals, this final more than made up for in sheer unrelenting pace and excitement. Not that that will feel like much of a consolation to Chelsea fans making their way home after another Wembley disappointment at the hands of the Reds.


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