The feeling of déjà vu was unmistakable. For the second time this season, Chelsea and Liverpool went head-to-head in a Wembley final and, as in the Carabao Cup at the end of February, the margins were excruciatingly tight. Everyone knew it could come down to a moment: a flash of magic or even a mistake.
It was not as open as the previous delivery, heavy legs after a long season, after everything that both clubs have experienced. For Chelsea, there has been an emotional drain from the impending takeover. Liverpool, meanwhile, has set its sights on a historic quadruple, relentless challenges. But there were still chances at both ends and decent ones too. As each one begged, the tension increased even more.
For a snapshot of the drama, look no further than the 60 seconds or so from the 83rd minute when Liverpool created two starts and hit every post at the end of them. First the non-stop Luis Diaz finished off the outside of the right side and then Andy Robertson, arriving to receive a cross from substitute James Milner, crashed his shot against the other.
Chelsea craved what Thomas Tuchel called an “injection of positivity” and they almost got it in normal time, before the inevitable slow march to penalties, which was how the Carabao Cup final was decided, with Liverpool winning. a marathon penalty shootout by 11-10.
There were great chances for Christian Pulisic and Marcos Alonso in the first half and Alonso again after the break. The left back also hit the crossbar with a free kick. He simply would not enter the ball and neither would Liverpool and, especially, Diaz.
And so we went once more, to the last test of courage. It was Chelsea’s substitute goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, who had cracked the last half, lifting his shot over the crossbar. This time, there were more misses: César Azpilicueta in the second round for Chelsea, Sadio Mané late in the fifth round, whose game-winning kick was brilliantly stopped by Édouard Mendy, his teammate in Senegal.
Chelsea’s reprieve did not last. Alisson was Liverpool’s hero in the sudden death second round, going the right way to deny Mason Mount and clearing the way for Liverpool substitute Kostas Tsimikas to win it. Red flares lit up the scene. With the FA Cup, Jürgen Klopp had completed the set of trophies with Liverpool.
The occasion was framed by the meeting between the teams in the previous final, which gave Liverpool their first trophy of the season, and by what has happened to Chelsea since then. Three days before that earlier meeting, Roman Abramovich’s control over the club began to unravel when Russia invaded Ukraine and Chelsea were forced to operate under a cloud.
Many things have been left in suspense and Tuchel has not tried to say that the locker room has not been affected. Under beautiful blue skies and after Pete Tong had finished releasing some classics, Chelsea’s plan was to trigger a revival.
The atmosphere throbbed and it was Liverpool who put the scoring early, with Díaz very present on the left. Tuchel preferred Trevoh Chalobah to Cesar Azpilicueta on the forehand of a three-pointer, mainly because of his increased pace, but it was a concern for Chelsea when Diaz easily slipped past them in the early stages to cross. Thiago could not stretch enough to reach the ball.
Liverpool worked it repeatedly to the left early on and Trent Alexander-Arnold created a great chance for Diaz with a sumptuous pass out of the boot. Díaz was far from Chalobah but Édouard Mendy denied him by taking the sting out of his shot, and Chalobah then cleared from the edge of the line.
Chelsea bounced back after a rocky start to the first half and Christian Pulisic, working from the left, squandered a decent chance and created an even better one for Alonso.
Tuchel wanted to create an overload down the right through Reece James and Mount, with Pulisic sliding in for the final ball. Chelsea worked very well in the 23rd minute, Mount clipping a low cross and Pulisic coming in to sweep the far corner. He narrowly dragged him away, but Chelsea could feel a surge of confidence.
Alonso had to do better when Pulisic played him by taking a pass from Monte, who was in the mood. Pulisic’s weight on the ball was perfect but Alonso’s first touch was poor and made Alisson’s block a expedient. The doorman had been characteristically quick to get out.
Klopp had to work without Mohamed Salah from the 32nd minute, after the winger felt a twinge that will worry Liverpool in the countdown to the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28.
Diogo Jota entered, wasting a good opportunity before the break. Mané led a break after Mateo Kovacic lost possession, initially down the right, but when his team went back the other way, Andy Robertson crossed and Jota timed his run well. He raised the volley high.
Chelsea finished the first half with Romelu Lukaku firing half a chance high. They resumed with the bite between their teeth and creating a flurry of chances, with Alonso so close to the break.
He crawled past the far post after Alexander-Arnold got caught under a Pulisic cross and then hit the crossbar with a free kick whipped from a tight angle to the right. Pulisic also worked with Alisson after Lukaku’s dismissal.
Díaz spun on the edge of the area and scratched a deflected shot, and it seemed that the game was boiling. Tuchel cheered on the Chelsea fans; he sensed that something was coming.
Tuchel asked James to defend closer to Diaz to help Chalobah, but Liverpool pushed again, pressing higher, connecting their passes and going up the flanks. There was another good chance for Jota after Naby Keïta found him, only for the striker to go to waste.
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