Tuesday, February 27, 2024

EFL (Carabao ) Cup

The stars were aligned on the Liverpool bench, providing Chelsea with a golden opportunity to win a trophy for their supporters and lessen the pressure on the Blues’ much maligned ownership and management. It did not happen as Liverpool triumphed 1-0 in extra time to lift the trophy. An extensive injury list forced Liverpool to dig deep into its bench on Sunday for a host of young academy players. Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad failed to take advantage as the London side suffered a sixth consecutive defeat in a domestic cup final at Wembley Stadium. Virgil Van Dijk, one of the few veterans left on the pitch for Liverpool, headed in the winner in the second half of extra time for Liverpool’s eighth EFL Cup trophy. Van Dijk had an earlier goal called back for an offside call. The disallowed and decisive goals both betrayed Chelsea’s defensive naivety. Chelsea fullback Ben Chilwell was marking Van Dijk in the first instance and winger Mikhailo Mudryk was the nearest defender on the winning play. Neither player had a chance against the more physically imposing Van Dijk. The head scratching at Chelsea goes far beyond that, however. Faced with an array of “Klopp’s Kids” in extra time, Chelsea played passively and showed no inclination to challenge Liverpool’s largely inexperienced lineup. Manager Mauricio Pochettino would afterward claim his squad was playing for penalties, much to the consternation of supporters. Chelsea’s fumbling of its golden opportunity for silverware also included its usual penchant for missed chances. Midfielder Conor Gallagher, hardworking as always, was nevertheless the most egregious culprit in missing his chances on Sunday.

The EFL Cup result raised more questions regarding the unusual project going on at Chelsea and the shortcomings of its own young talent. Liverpool, meanwhile, displayed the heart of a champion in winning yet another trophy. The Reds overcame the injury absences of such stars as Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The injury curse even continued on Sunday when Ryan Gravenberch was stretchered off after a harsh tackle by Chelsea’s Moises Caicedo. That injury brought the total to 11 sidelined first team players for Liverpool. Teenagers James McConnell, Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns joined the fray for Liverpool as substitutes, marking the first time since 2017 that three teenagers appeared for a team in an EFL Cup final. The teens were joined by 21-year-old Jarrel Quansah as a second half substitute while 20-year-olds Harvey Elliott and Connor Bradley had started the match for the undermanned Reds. The youngsters filled in capably for Liverpool’s absent frontliners and, led  by their veteran captain Van Dijk, endured and ensured that Manager Jurgen Klopp has at least one trophy to celebrate in his final season in Merseyside.

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