Liverpool win EFL Cup with Van Dijk extra-time header

by 24britishtvFeb. 25, 2024, 8 p.m. 21
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Last updated on .From the section League Cup

Virgil van Dijk's header deep into extra time gave an under-strength Liverpool a remarkable Carabao Cup final win over Chelsea at Wembley.

Liverpool's 10th triumph in the competition was achieved without a host of injured star names, including forward trio Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota, also losing Ryan Gravenberch when he was taken off on a stretcher after Moises Caicedo's first-half challenge.

It means Jurgen Klopp's side have achieved the first part of a potential quadruple in the manager's farewell season, but it was a bitter blow to Chelsea and manager Mauricio Pochettino.

They have now lost six successive Wembley finals, including three against Liverpool, and wasted a host of opportunities here.
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Liverpool were indebted to goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher who produced another outstanding Wembley performance after being the hero when Chelsea were beaten on penalties in the 2022 EFL Cup final.

In a tight first half, he blocked brilliantly from Cole Palmer while Liverpool's Cody Gakpo saw a header bounce back off the post. Chelsea's Raheem Sterling also saw a close-range effort ruled out for offside against Nicolas Jackson.

As the chances came thick and fast after the break, Van Dijk thought he had headed Liverpool in front on the hour only for the goal to be contentiously ruled out for offside against Wataru Endo following a lengthy Video Assistant Referee (VAR) intervention as the Japan midfielder blocked off Chelsea defender Levi Colwill.

Conor Gallagher was also denied by the woodwork, then once more by the defiant Kelleher as he looked poised to make the breakthrough, Liverpool's keeper darting off his line to save while Chelsea somehow failed to score in a desperate goalmouth scramble in the closing moments of normal time.

Kelleher's Chelsea counterpart Djordje Petrovic was called into action in extra time, turning over a header from Liverpool's teenage substitute Jayden Danns while Harvey Elliott shot into the side-netting from a good position, also seeing a header miraculously kept out by the keeper.

And then came that final twist to give Liverpool another Wembley victory over Chelsea and leave Pochettino still seeking his first trophy in England.

The odds on Liverpool securing another Wembley win lengthened when the teamsheet landed and the names of Salah and Nunez were added to other high-profile absentees Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jota and keeper Alisson.

And yet, once more, Liverpool overcame this handicap, Klopp trusting Liverpool's emerging youngsters in a major final as three rookies were sent into the Wembley fray as substitutes in the shape of 19-year-old duo Bobby Clark and James McConnell, along with 18-year-old Danns.

All three showed remarkable composure in the heat of battle, offering further evidence of Liverpool's bright future after Klopp departs in the summer.

At the heart of it all was the imperious Van Dijk along with keeper Kelleher, who once again decorated Wembley with an outstanding, calm performance, coming to Liverpool's rescue when required, as he was on several occasions.

It was a victory against all odds and will inject even further confidence into a Liverpool side seemingly on a mission to give Klopp a very special goodbye to Anfield.

Chelsea have recent experience of losing to Liverpool at Wembley, beaten in both the FA Cup and EFL Cup finals by the Reds in 2022, but the circumstances of this defeat will hurt deeply.

As well as being their sixth successive Wembley final loss, three in the FA Cup and three in the EFL Cup, Chelsea will know they had the chance to provide a different end to what was ultimately a familiar story.

Pochettino's side had a huge opportunity to exact a measure of revenge for those defeats against a Liverpool team reduced by injuries, missing so many influential players, and after coming into better form themselves in recent weeks.

And yet it was heartbreak once more for Chelsea, this time with Pochettino at the helm, the Argentine still without a success in England, and suffering defeat at the hands of Klopp once more after losing the 2020 Champions League final when he was manager at Tottenham.

Chelsea will know this was a major opportunity that they let escape their grasp, not able to find the killer touch in front of goal as well as being strangely passive and second best in extra time.

Victory here would not only have ensured European football for Chelsea, it would also have provided a measure of calm after recent turbulent seasons - but once again Wembley only brought disappointment.

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