Christian Pulisic got the starting nod for Chelsea in their Carabao Cup final against Liverpool, however a tightly-played 120 minute contest ended in ineptitude on the part of Thomas Tuchel as the Blues came up empty-handed.
The game saw the Chelsea squad take the field under a cloud of controversy surrounding; owner Roman Abramovich, a well-known associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin, announced his decision on Saturday to step down from day-to-day club activities, while still retaining ownership.
Even though the club’s management found it in their hearts to offer the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” to the people impacted by the current situation in Ukraine, few would have faulted the majority of viewers for their feeling of Schadenfreude at the final outcome.
Nevertheless, the team took the field in Wembley with considerable momentum at their heels, with a six-game winning streak across all competitions including their recent triumph over Palmeiras in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Their opponents Liverpool, were even more dominant in recent games, riding a nine-game winning streak into Wembley, their last loss having been in the final game of 2021, and currently putting serious pressure on Manchester City in the now-uncertain English Premier League race.
Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel deployed Pulisic on the left directly behind central striker Kai Havertz, with Mason Mount occupying the opposite wing role.
Pulisic nearly gave Chelsea an early lead after six minutes, sneaking free from Liverpool defender Joel Matip to get a foot onto a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta and directing it towards goal from close range. However, Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher made a fine reaction save to keep the game scoreless.
Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy then bailed out Chelsea in spectacular fashion at the half-hour, first diving to his right to block Naby Keita’s distance shot, then immediately deflecting Sadio Mané’s follow-up over the crossbar.
Azpilicueta saw his attempt from distance at the 42-minute mark fly just high and wide on the left side, then Chelsea had perhaps their best chance moments before the break.
Pulisic stormed forward as Chelsea countered, then hit Havertz with a short forward pass into the right side of the area. The German took a single touch before squaring it into the path of Mason Mount, however his shot was inches wide left in what can only be deemed as a wasted chance.
Mount came even closer in the 49th minute; Pulisic lobbed a short pass over the defense to his teammate, who had only the keeper to beat. He tried to place his shot to the lower left corner, however it bounced off the upright to keep the game scoreless.
Livepool were celebrating the go-ahead goal in the 67th minute when Mané headed Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free kick across the face of goal, where Matip headed in at the far post. However, much to Chelsea’s delight, a VAR review showed that Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk fouled his mark and was offside on the play, leaving the game scoreless.
Pulisic and Mount made way for Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku in the 74th minute as Tuchel attempted to insert fresh legs into his attack.
Havertz momentarily appeared to have headed Chelsea into the lead four minutes later, however it was immediately called back for an offside infraction, then Mendy had to bail his team out at the other end with five minutes left, blocking attempts from Luis Diaz and Andrew Robertson.
The two teams traded injury-time chances for heroic winners, with Van Dijk forcing Mendy into a save from his 91st minute header, and Kelleher deflecting Lukaku’s 95th-minute attempt with his foot.
In the first overtime period, Lukaku looked to have struck the go-ahead goal in the 98th minute as he received the ball outside of the area, battled his way towards goal and unleashed a low shot that beat Kelleher at the near post, but it was immediately called back for offside.
Four minutes into the second overtime period, Havertz seemed to be the hero when he received a pass in an open position in the middle of the area and fired low to the right corner, but again, offside ruined the party.
Nevertheless, after 120 minutes played without any goals that were allowed to stand, the game headed into penalty kicks.
Prior to the shootout, Tuchel, in his infinite tactical wisdom, made the gamble to bring on backup keeper Kepa for the shootout in place of Mendy, who had, three weeks ago to the day, been the hero in helping Senegal lift the African Cup of Nations title after it went to penalties.
To say Tuchel’s move did not turn out as he had hoped would be an understatement for ages. After Kepa and Kelleher showed the utter inability to save a single shot from the ten outfield players on either side, the trophy came down to a rare keeper vs. keeper battle.
Kelleher nailed his attempt, sending Kepa to the wrong side as he targeted the upper left corner. On what would be the final kick of the game, the Spaniard’s feeble attempt seemed to target the upper deck of Wembley, giving Kelleher no work to do other than watch the ball fly towards the heavens, with Liverpool winning their first League Cup since 2012.
Chelsea must remain in Cup mode, as they will visit Luton Town on Wednesday evening in the FA Cup Round of 16. They will return to Premier League action on Saturday with a trip to Burnley.