Liverpool edge Chelsea to clinch League Cup

Published February 26, 2024
LIVERPOOL manager Jurgen Klopp (centre R) and Virgil van Dijk (centre L) celebrate with the League Cup trophy along with team-mates after beating Chelsea in the final at the Wembley Stadium on Sunday.—Reuters
LIVERPOOL manager Jurgen Klopp (centre R) and Virgil van Dijk (centre L) celebrate with the League Cup trophy along with team-mates after beating Chelsea in the final at the Wembley Stadium on Sunday.—Reuters

LONDON: Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk powered home a header in extra time as his side beat Chelsea 1-0 in the League Cup final on Sunday to clinch a record-extending 10th title in the competition and crown Juergen Klopp’s final season in charge with silverware.

Van Dijk rose high above his marker to head a corner back across goal and into the far corner in the 118th minute, sparking wild celebrations among the Liverpool supporters massed at that end of Wembley stadium.

With the club leading the Premier League and still in the FA Cup and Europa League, Liverpool’s fans will hope the latest triumph provides the launch pad for more trophies in Klopp’s swansong campaign, with the quadruple still within reach.

The Liverpool manager, who said last month he would leave after eight years at the end of the season, will take particular satisfaction in a victory achieved in testing circumstances, with the club facing an injury crisis that forced Klopp to put his faith in a host of young players who did not let him down.

It was a captivating encounter and both sides had what they thought were opening goals ruled out for offside, with Raheem Sterling denied by the linesman’s flag for Chelsea before the break and Dutchman Van Dijk’s header after the interval chalked off in a controversial call by the VAR.

The chances came thick and fast in a furious end-to-end encounter, with both sides hitting the woodwork and spurning numerous other opportunities.

Liverpool overcame a devastating injury list, with the likes of Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold, goalkeeper Alisson and Curtis Jones, key forwards Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez and midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai recently joining a number of longer term absentees on the sidelines.

They ended the game on Sunday with 19-year-olds James McConnell and Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns, 18, on the pitch, with the trio possessing barely a handful of first team appearances between them.

BRIGHT START

While Liverpool began the brighter, it was Chelsea who had the first chance in the 20th minute when the ball squirmed to Cole Palmer six yards out but his effort was brilliantly saved by Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Liverpool’s injury problems were then compounded when Ryan Gravenberch was taken off on a stretcher four minutes later after Moises Caicedo caught his ankle with a clumsy, mistimed tackle that had Klopp seething on the touchline.

Liverpool were then handed a reprieve by the lineman’s flag when Sterling tapped home from Nicolas Jackson’s pass, a tight call that VAR took time to confirm.

Cody Gakpo headed against the post from Andy Robertson’s cross towards the end of the half and that was as close as Liverpool came until Van Dijk thought he had put them in front in the 60th minute.

The centre back outjumped Ben Chilwell to head home but the VAR spotted that Wataru Endo was offside and deemed somewhat harshly to be interfering by blocking a Chelsea defender when Andy Robertson’s free kick was crossed into the box.

Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, who spurned a number of other chances, had the opportunity to win it in the 85th when he bore down on goal but his shot was excellently saved by Kelleher before the playmaker blazed another effort off target.

Harvey Elliott forced a brilliant save from Djordje Petrovic with five minutes of extra time remaining as the Liverpool forward headed powerfully towards the bottom corner but his effort was cleared off the line by the keeper.

Yet it did not matter as moments later, Van Dijk headed the ball home to send the Liverpool supporters into raptures.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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