Current Club World Cup champions Chelsea came up against in-form Liverpool in the final of the Carabao cup. Games between these two rarely fail surprise, and this was no exception.
Both teams came firing right out the gate in what made for one of the games of the season so far.
Both teams played a near full-strength lineup for the occasion. Young German Kai Havertz started at striker for Chelsea over Romelu Lukaku, with Havertz having scored in both Chelsea’s
Champions League final victory, as well as netting the winner against Palmeiras in the Club Worl Cup final.
Not shy of big occasions, Havertz looked to continue his run of scoring in every final he has played in so far. Liverpool gave new signing Luis Diaz a run on the wing, while young goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher got the nod over Allison between the sticks.
As soon as the ball was kicked off, both teams went straight at it, pulling no punches. Liverpool came under a lot of pressure early after Havertz played a smart pass into Christian Pulisic, who fired straight at the goalkeeper from close range. A chance that probably should’ve been taken, and one that would come back to haunt Chelsea towards the end of the game.
Although Chelsea looked dangerous early on, things almost took a turn for the worst for the Blues when Naby Keita let fly from distance, forcing a good save from Chelsea keeper Eduard Mendy.
The rebound fell to Sadio Mane who looked destined to score, but jaw-dropping reactions from Mendy kept the game at nil-nil.
Chelsea continued to fire all from cylinders, spurring another great chance on the verge of halftime.
Another excellent pass from Havertz played Mason Mount through on goal, who volleyed slightly wide from about 10 yards out. Another chance you’d expect a player of Mount’s calibre to score.
Both teams continue to push each other in the second half. Within minutes Chelsea had another chance, with mount catching onto a perfectly timed pass from Pulisic. Mount took a great first touch, but struck the ball into the post from close range.
Liverpool survive yet again, and Tuchel is visibly frustrated on the sidelines. The Blues should have been well up at this point in the game, but a lack of conviction and poor finishing meant the scores remained level.
Not too long after Liverpool get a chance of their own. Mane gets his head onto a superb ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold but heads it into the ground. The ball bounces up at a perfect height for defender Joel Matip, who nods it home from close range, and Liverpool think they’ve scored.
After a quick VAR check, the goal was ruled out due to a foul from Virgil Van Dijk before the ball was kicked.
Soon after, Havertz looked to have continued his final-scoring run, as he nodded home a loose cross from substitute Lukaku. The goal was again quickly ruled out for offside against Lukaku, who strayed beyond the defensive line during the buildup to the goal.
Liverpool looked to be the team on top towards the end of the game. Substitute Diojo Jota proved a challenge for the Chelsea defenders to handle, forcing corner after corner as the Blues held on against the Liverpool onslaught.
Mendy had to be on top of his game to shut out as many opportunities for the Reds as he could. He did just that, and the game ended nil-all after 90 minutes.
Extra-time didn’t mean any slowing down, either. Within eight minutes, Chelsea think they’ve scored the winner after Lukaku raced onto a clever through ball from defender Trevoh Chalobah, and slots the ball past Kelleher. VAR quickly rules the goal out for offside and Liverpool are lucky to survive once again.
The second half of extra time had players running out of steam, but both teams gave their all till the very last kick. Havertz thinks he scores the winner in the 109th minute as he slots home from a tight angle, but again has his goal ruled out for offside.
Chelsea had three disallowed goals, two of them coming from Havertz. It was also the fourth offside goal in total for the game, which somehow remained nil-all until the final whistle. Both teams got ready for the penalty shootout to decide their fate.
Despite his heroics, Tuchel made the bold call to substitute Mendy for the shootout, with Kepa Arizabalaga stepping up between the posts. The shootout went down to the wire, with every player converting their penalties to the point where it was down to the goalkeepers.
With the scores at 10 all, Kelleher walks up to the spot. Kelleher steps up calmly, and blasts the ball with pace well out of Kepa’s reach. A quick switch in position, and it was Kepa vs Kelleher to decide the match. Kepa stutters a bit in his run-up, strikes the ball, and sends it well over the crossbar, almost as if he was attempting a goal kick.
The shootout finished 10-11 Liverpool’s way, as the Reds were crowned EFL Cup Champions after a hard-fought battle.
The question now hangs upon Chelsea manager Tuchel, as to why he would substitute Mendy after playing arguable the best game of his Chelsea career.
With Mendy playing a man of the match worthy performance, the strange decision to take off the in-form goalkeeper in favour of Kepa will likely hang in the back of Chelsea fan’s minds, as the strange substitution, as well as poor shooting in front of goal, ultimately led to Chelsea’s downfall in the end.