Every player played their part as Liverpool fought for FA Cup success, with Jurgen Klopp‘s mentality monsters keeping the dream alive into the final fortnight.
I thought lightning wasn’t supposed to strike twice.
As amusing as it is to beat the team from Stamford Bridge at the culmination of two domestic cup competitions in identical circumstances, if we never play Chelsea again in a cup final it won’t be a day too soon.
It would be absolutely lovely if, in their post-Roman Abramovic existence, they just fade away into their old Ken Bates uninspired default position of midtable obscurity – with the occasional relegation thrown in for good measure.
Two cup finals, 240 minutes plus stoppage time, over four hours of goalless football during which trophies were handed to us midway through and at the end, it wasn’t for the want of both teams trying to score goals that the outcome of both finals was dictated from 12 yards.
If February and the League Cup final was a story of goals being chalked off for offside and some outrageous goalkeeping, May and the FA Cup final was all about the frame of the goal being regularly tested and some more fine goalkeeping, as Alisson and Edouard Mendy proved their value, especially in the first half.
At one stage, as Alisson received first-half treatment after a fine block on Marcos Alonso, it had looked as if Kelleher might have had more than just a watching brief.
Liverpool with a dominant start, Chelsea with a flurry of counterpunches, it was Thomas Tuchel’s side who were then the brighter of the two at the beginning of the second half, before Klopp’s men put their opponents into a headlock.
Extra time became increasingly inevitable, as did the resultant penalty shootout, as both teams almost ground to a halt, Liverpool’s fatigue allowing Chelsea to increase possession of the ball as the game began to age.
It all made for something of a footballing fusion that favoured both teams at varying stages of a warm afternoon, onward to a shaded early evening.
Wembley wasn’t only a culture clash on the pitch either; it was very much polar opposites in the stands too, as Liverpool’s trademark defiance of demanded etiquettes and almost Latin European or South American flair – and flares – gave the occasion its most sensory ingredients.
Although there were stages when we too eased off the gas, instead falling into a near-contemplative slumber that had Luis Diaz and later James Milner wheeling their arms at us to raise the noise levels.
It has been a long season for us too.
When it is Scouse verve up against plastic flags there is only ever going to be one winner, however, and on the way back to my car after the cup had been lifted and paraded, the difference between the two sets of fans was socially marked by the sight of a cluster of disappointed Chelsea-shirted souls, who were consoling themselves by making purchases in The Fragrance Shop.
As if winning a cup isn’t satisfaction enough, we even upset the Daily Mail.
Ultimately, it was an arduous way to succeed, as we were put through the wringer; the width of the goalpost denied us, as much as Mendy did, and even in the penalty shootout Sadio Mane fluffed his cup-winning lines.
We faced a penalty to stay in it and our beloved Greek Scouser settled the issue with the winning spot-kick, offering hints of Alan Kennedy in being a cup final-deciding Liverpool left-back.
Big men made big contributions, and that we ended the occasion the way we did, without Virgil van Dijk on the pitch too, is absolutely stunning.
Van Dijk, Fabinho and Salah, an entire spine ripped from a team.
This was a day when Jordan Henderson and Milner occupied the Liverpool midfield together for 55 minutes. A ‘Milderson’ midfield is not meant to happen, but it did, to eventual trophy-winning effect.
Every player did their bit, in a cup final that was won out of sheer stubbornness.
Diaz the biggest of mentality monsters, Andy Robertson tireless, Trent Alexander-Arnold always a danger, Ibrahima Konate faultless, Naby Keita and Thiago always available, always looking to drive forward in the case of the former, always esoteric in the case of the latter.
Kostas stole the show, though, as the unlikeliest of match-winners.
On the backfoot in extra time, it had been telling that, Bobby aside, our fresh legs in those last 46 minutes – plus nine minutes of aggregated injury time – were ones that suggested defensive bolstering.
We almost won this one by memory.
Two out of two trophies won, until Tuesday evening at least the quadruple remains mathematically possible.
Of course, winning the Premier League from here would be astonishing, yet victory at Wembley on Saturday can act as the perfect springboard to head to Paris and settle some scores with Real Madrid, as nothing soothes aching muscles and fatigued bodies quite like lifting cups does.
Three more games to drag ourselves through to the conclusion of this incredible campaign; onward we go.
Up the Reds.