5 talking points from Liverpool's Carabao Cup final victory against Chelsea

Liverpool have won the Carabao Cup in the most dramatic of circumstances. Virgil van Dijk’s incredible header in the closing stages of extra time gave the Reds the victory, with Jurgen Klopp managing in his last League Cup final.

Liverpool had to suffer the loss of yet another player to injury, in this case Ryan Gravenberch, and finished the game with multiple academy graduates on the Wembley turf.

Up against the billionaires of Chelsea, it looked a mismatch with so many fitness issues plaguing Klopp’s side. But they got the win from the head of their captain; a true captain’s contribution when they needed him most.

The success of this victory is owed to the collective spirit in the Reds’ ranks, surely now increased in the knowledge that this is in essence Klopp’s dance.

It was a beautiful moment, provided by one of the game’s greats.

Van Dijk a fitting captain on Klopp's 'Last Dance'

Football - Football League Cup - Final - Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool s captain Virgil van Dijk reacts during the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda LONDON Wembley Stadium GREATER LONDON ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex P2024-02-25-Chelsea_Liverpool-84

Cometh the hour cometh the man. Van Dijk simply wasn’t to be denied. If this is to be Klopp’s final Wembley appearance, then his captain ensured he signed off with a trophy.

The Carabao Cup might not mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but today was special for all kinds of reasons. Whether it was the Klopp plot line or the presence of so many of “Klopp’s Kids”, this was a landmark cup victory for Liverpool.

And when Klopp needed his most senior man the most, he stood up and delivered.

His disallowed goal was a beautiful finish, his winner was simply sublime. In front of the Liverpool end, with the fireworks cracking off, Van Dijk kept his calm and aimed his header towards Djordje Petrovic’s far post.

The timing just couldn’t have been any better.

Chelsea’s “Billion Pound Bottle Jobs”, in the words of Gary Neville, couldn’t get the job done. But Liverpool could and they were led by the man who’s seen it all and done it all before.

Irreplaceable at the heart of the defence and one of the best defenders the world has ever seen, this was certainly a trophy Van Dijk deserved to hoist in tandem with his manager.

The "Kids" are alright

Chelsea v Liverpool - Carabao Cup - Final - Wembley Stadium Liverpool s Virgil van Dijk on the floor is congratulated by his team mates after scoring his sides first goal of the game during the Carabao Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday February 25, 2024. Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder. PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUKxIRL Copyright: xAdamxDavyx 75453722

Liverpool’s injury list is a mile long and shows no sign of clearing. Gravenberch suffered at the hands of that horrific Mosies Caicedo challenge, leaving the pitch on a stretcher with what appeared to be a nasty ankle injury. 

Fans were also subjected to the pre-game sight of Trent Alexander-Arnold arriving at Wembley with his leg in a brace and Curtis Jones on crutches and wearing a protective boot. 

These are not great days for Liverpool in terms of the availability of key players with Alisson, Dominik Szoboszlai, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcantara, Stefan Bajcetic, Joel Matip and Ben Doak also out. 

When Klopp said earlier this week that Liverpool would keep going so long as they had 11 players to put out, he meant it. The manner in which his stand-ins performed here was heroic. 

He has been singing the praises of the likes of Jayden Danns, Conor Bradley, James McConnell and Bobby Clark for a few weeks now and with it all on the line he was content to throw them in at the deep end. They did not let him down. 

Bradley started the game and even dealt with a change of position post-Gravenberch injury. Danns, McConnell and Clark all coped manfully with Danns going close to scoring and Clark demonstrating maturity beyond his years. 

Klopp enjoys a strong bond with all his squad and the youngsters are certainly part of that community. With Lewis Koumas and Trey Nyoni waiting in the wings, the future at Anfield looks bright. 

Kelleher the perfect understudy

Chelsea v Liverpool EFL Cup 25/02/2024. Carabao Cup Final Caoimhin Kelleher 62 of Liverpool makes a save from a shot at goal by Conor Gallagher 23 of Chelsea during the EFL Cup match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium, London, England on 25 February 2024. London Wembley Stadium Greater London England Editorial use only DataCo restrictions apply See www.football-dataco.com , Copyright: xGrahamxHuntx PSI-19105-0095

When it was confirmed that Alisson’s hamstring injury would rule him out until the end of the forthcoming international window, a fair few Reds fans would be forgiven for reacting with a gulp. 

Having missed out against Burnley through illness, and then suffering his injury prior to the Brentford game, Alisson will probably not be seen in a Liverpool shirt until April. 

That period covers not only the Carabao Cup final but also the Europa League last 16 and the crucial Premier League showdown against Manchester City on March 10. 

The Brazilian’s standards remain so high that any successful trophy bid would almost certainly need to include him. 

However, the form of Caoimhin Kelleher on the biggest stage should go some way towards cushioning the blow. Long hailed as one of the best No.2 goalkeepers in the Premier League, the Irishman was at his brilliant, shotstopping best against Chelsea. 

Whether it was keeping out Cole Palmer in the first half or Conor Gallagher in the second, the 25-year-old was on hand when required. 

The one-on-one stop versus Gallagher was a highlight although he needed to be smart in making other saves on the day.

Red card calls are descending into VARCE

Curtis Jones was sent off in a Premier League match against Tottenham back in September. Having originally given a yellow card, referee Simon Hooper was persuaded to change his mind by the VAR and duly upgraded the booking to a dismissal. 

It didn’t look good in freeze frame; the Liverpool midfielder went over the top of the ball and made definitive contact with the leg of Yves Bissouma. Some Reds, including Klopp, didn’t agree with the outcome. 

“Curtis Jones got a red card and I stick to the opinion that it’s not a red card,” he said at the time. Liverpool went on to lose that game in hugely controversial circumstances. 

What then are we to make of Caicedo’s tackle on Gravenberch here at Wembley? Matchday referee Chris Kavanagh did not even deem it worthy of a foul; VAR meanwhile, was no assistance in this case. 

The Ecuadorian international was late, excessive and out of control and the 21-year-old Gravenberch saw his Carabao Cup final ended after only 25 minutes. 

Not only is a crushing blow for the Dutchman in his own right, a player who is desperately trying to get his Anfield career going, but it is another major injury hangup that Klopp and Liverpool could really have done without. It seems like they can barely go one game without their extensive injury list being expanded. 

The point here is that referees and VARs must promote consistency. Quite simply put, if Jones’s tackle against Spurs was a red card, then so was this. It boggles the mind that this wasn’t at least a yellow card. That it wasn't given as a foul only serves to emphasise the current crisis in officiating. 

Klopp was right to be raging.

Does anyone know what offside is any more?

Chelsea v Liverpool, London, UK - 25 Feb 2024 A goal by Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool is ruled out by VAR during the EFL Cup Final match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium, London on 25 February 2024 London Wembley Stadium London England Copyright: xMicahxCrook/PPAUKx PPA-092166

Virgil van Dijk had appeared, for the second time in the span of a few days, to give Liverpool a crucial goal in the opening exchanges of the second half. 

On Wednesday he nodded the Reds level against Luton Town, which brought on a second-half onslaught that eventually saw Klopp’s men rout the Hatters by four goals to one. 

Well on Sunday, Van Dijk looked to have done the exact same thing again. From a pinpoint Andy Robertson freekick, the 32-year-old rose high above Ben Chilwell to plant a header past Petrovic. 

Liverpool could well have gone on to dominate the scoreboard like they did on Wednesday. But instead it was ruled out. 

Having consulted with VAR, Kavanagh gave what might well be deemed a subjective offside call against Wataru Endo. 

The Japan international was standing in an offside position as the ball was struck and made no attempt to play it. However, he stood his ground and blocked off the run of Chelsea’s Levi Colwill. That meant the defender could not get close enough to Van Dijk and Chiwell to make an intervention. 

It was arguable whether he would have got there in any case but very quickly the referee’s mind was made up much to the consternation of Liverpool’s fans. 

How many times this season have we seen goalkeepers blocked off? Or players standing in the goalkeeper’s line of sight and no freekick given? 

There is simply no consistency in how these decisions are made. 

How can the VAR spot a fractional offside like this and miss such an obvious stamp from Caicedo in the first half? 

Unless something is done about the frequency in which the right call is made, football’s credibility is only going to go one way. 

Mauricio Pochettino made a comment in his pre-match press conference expressing hope that the officials don’t get caught up in the Klopp farewell “hype”. 

Who knows whether or not that was playing on their minds when they went through that VAR call so forensically. 

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