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Key talking points as Van Dijk heads Reds to Carabao Cup glory
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Matthew Hill
Virgil van Dijk's header won the Carabao Cup for Liverpool
Virgil van Dijk's header won the Carabao Cup for Liverpool

Liverpool lifted their first trophy of Jurgen Klopp's farewell season by seeing off Chelsea 1-0 after extra-time in a dramatic Carabao Cup final.

Virgil van Dijk's 118th-minute header proved to be the telling blow, leaving Mauricio Pochettino empty-handed in his quest to shine some positivity on a tough campaign in West London.

We round up the key talking points from an action-packed affair at Wembley.

Patched-up Reds

Chelsea received a huge psychological boost before a ball was kicked thanks to a Liverpool team sheet missing several star names.

A pre-weekend update from Reds assistant boss Pep Lijnders suggested Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai all still had a chance of featuring at Wembley.

Yet late fitness tests clearly did not go to plan with all three absent from the 20-man squad, joining fellow regulars Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones and Joel Matip on the sidelines.

Though Klopp's starting XI still boasted ample quality, the lack of depth on his bench was startling — all five of his midfield and forward options being largely untested teenagers.

Nervy Blues

One area where Liverpool did have an edge was big-game experience, with nerves firmly apparent among Mauricio Pochettino's side from the first whistle.

Heavy touches and misplaced passes, particularly in the opening 15 minutes, hinted the occasion was overwhelming for several members of a youthful Blues outfit.

Levi Colwill, Malo Gusto and Axel Disasi were all sloppily caught in possession at the back, while Moises Caicedo rode his luck with several clumsy fouls and was lucky to escape punishment for ending Ryan Gravenberch's final after 28 minutes.

Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah both missed out for Liverpool
Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah both missed out for Liverpool

VAR controversy

VAR inevitably played its part in the final and while confirmation of Nicolas Jackson's offside prior to Raheem Sterling slotting home was a relatively straightforward intervention, its second involvement was anything but.

Van Dijk powerfully headed home a free-kick on the hour mark to send Reds fans into delirium, only for the most unusual of offside checks to temper their celebrations.

Though the Liverpool skipper was comfortably onside, the key question related to whether team-mate Wataru Endo, blocking off Colwill from an offside position, was interfering with play.

A deliberation period of over three minutes eventually ended with the ruling of a technical offside, much to the bemusement of Klopp and Co.

Everything but goals

Conor Gallagher spurned several chances for Chelsea
Conor Gallagher spurned several chances for Chelsea

These two sides contested both domestic cup finals in 2021-22 without a goal being scored and somehow that trend continued for the bulk of this renewal.

Chances were rife at both ends throughout, with the woodwork denying both Cody Gakpo and Conor Gallagher with the net seeming certain to bulge.

Both goalkeepers were in fantastic form, particularly Caoimhin Kelleher — the Reds understudy once again showing himself capable of stepping up when needed.

Stunning stops from Cole Palmer and Gallagher in particular kept his side in the tie.

Not to be denied

Klopp fearlessly threw on his young guns ahead of extra time, seemingly presenting Chelsea with a golden opportunity to take the trophy.

However, there was no drop-off in the Merseysiders' performance level — quite the opposite, in fact — while the expensively-assembled Blues struggled to maintain their energy and composure.

If there was to be a winner before penalties, it was going to be the Reds and for all the youth in their ranks, it was an experienced head that came up trumps.

Van Dijk once again rose highest from a set-piece to power home and this time there was no VAR intervention to deny him and his boss a fairytale triumph.


EFL CupLiverpoolChelseaVirgil van Dijk
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