Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool (10-11 on pens)
League Cup Final, Wembley
February 27, 2022
LFC penalties scored: Milner, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold, Salah, Jota, Origi, Elliott, Robertson, Konate, Kelleher
Lineup on point – and a harsh lesson
There could be few surprises about the 11 picked by Jurgen Klopp for the Wembley showpiece, particularly after he made it clear weeks ago that Kelleher would be starting in goal.
Elsewhere it was the strongest, fittest players available – Jota only fit for the bench, no Firmino, everyone else a first-choice starter.
Arguably, the bigger calls for the boss were with the bench spots and who to leave out – albeit due to an unlikely timing of everyone being fit for once.
Joe Gomez hasn’t yet made a full-on recovery to sharpness and game time, so had to miss out with Konate, Kostas and Milner as options across the back.
It’s a big reminder to younger players of the levels of consistency needed to feature weekly and be in contention for medals – just a few games at a lower level, and in these squads, a spot can quickly be gone.
Of course, the nature of quickfire changes of fortune works both ways: after initial disappointment it was Elliott who got a late boost, with Thiago injured in the warm-up.
Keita in from the cold and a midfield turnaround
So Naby came in at short notice with the No6 suddenly sidelined – and what a game he had.
A slightly slow start can be excused but he was one of the most impressive and consistent performers after that first 15 mins when the Reds as a whole struggled somewhat.
Ball-winning, possession use, tracking back and really aiding the Reds’ major periods of dominance – Keita was central to it all, and almost scored the opener too with a fine low effort.
Then came a double midfield sub.
It was perhaps necessary from a physical perspective – this was a tense and draining encounter on a huge pitch – but there’s no doubt the Reds lost the total control they had from that point onwards.
Milner had a decent outing in fairness, though Elliott was clearly still finding his feet with rhythm and sharpness in the game.
It didn’t really happen for the youngster and while ultimately it didn’t cost the game, it’s a short-term reminder that there’s still more to do to reach the top level with consistency – and that at the very highest level in the biggest games, a single absence or two can make a big difference to the overall level
Diaz’s super-quick impact
Since that first full season of Klopp’s perhaps, when anybody coming in pretty much became a first-teamer, the general habit has been for new signings to be eased in.
He was the Reds’ most consistently dangerous outlet and attacker all game long, several times almost creating scoring chances through sheer persistence, and he was definitely the only one of our attacking three (or five, across the game) who had the beating of his man.
Just the one goal for the Colombian so far but it’s not hard to envisage him adding a fair few more to the tally before season’s end.
It’s a good job we added him in January – we’d have been regretting it before now otherwise.
Outrageous shootout quality
Once in a while you get a penalty shootout so perfect it feels harsh on whoever wins, but not this time.
For starters, Kepa was an irritation throughout the shootout, and secondly it feels a little like justice for his final antics under Maurizio Sarri. Brought on to save a penalty, he was instead beaten 11 times and missed his own one.
Caoimhin Kelleher also didn’t save one, but he saved plenty during the game – a late stop from Lukaku was crucial and the early one from Pulisic likewise.
All 11 spot-kicks were brilliant from the Reds, from Fabinho‘s panenka to Kelleher’s own clipped effort.
And Mo gets to celebrate winning a shootout after his Afcon heartache, too!
To vaguely paraphrase the great Ronnie Moran, here are your medals boys, now go and get the next one.
We’ve won nine League Cups, more than anyone else in history, and this was an absolutely big and necessary triumph.
But it isn’t what our season is about and there’s more ahead to go for.
Another big league game and the Champions League second leg against Inter are the immediate challenges, and the wins just have to keep on coming – it’s 10 in a row now if this counts as a victory ultimately.
We should definitely be targetting a domestic cup double, but the two very biggest prizes should be on the cards too.
Anfield South: conquered again.