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  • 26 February 2024

Liverpool Triumphs in Klopp's Farewell Kickoff

Liverpool celebrated the beginning of the end of manager Jürgen Klopp’s time at the club in the best possible fashion, winning the Carabao Cup on Sunday after defeating Chelsea 1-0 in the dying moments of extra-time following a tense final at Wembley Stadium.

Every cup final is laced with tension, but with Liverpool seeking to send Klopp off with four trophies in his final season in charge and its starting lineup decimated by injury, the stakes for his club seemed higher than just winning a piece of silverware.

And that tension ratcheted up as the missed chances for both teams piled up, including a disallowed goal apiece, culminating in Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher making several spectacular, scrambled saves as the clock ticked into the red to force extra-time.

It was a goal from captain Virgil van Dijk, one of Liverpool’s most experienced players, that finally broke the 0-0 deadlock with just three minutes of extra-time remaining but the Reds’ victory was largely thanks to a host of young players, whom Van Dijk immediately paid tribute to after the game.

“All the young boys on the pitch on extra-time. It’s incredible, I’m so proud of the team,” he told broadcaster Sky Sports. “It was a tense game for both teams, they had chances, we had chances, amazing, first trophy as a Liverpool captain.”

It was a cagey start from both teams, weighed down by the tension of playing in a cup final. Liverpool seemed to settle fastest, drawing two free kicks in dangerous areas in the opening ten minutes that ultimately didn’t yield anything.

Despite that, it was Chelsea who had the first opportunity to score, stopped only by acrobatic goalkeeping from Kelleher who launched himself in front of Cole Palmer’s effort which was rocketing into the net, before Wataru Endo somehow cleared the rebound too.

An injury to Ryan Gravenberch following a challenge from Moises Caicedo in the 25th minute made Liverpool’s options even more threadbare, forcing a furious Klopp to shuffle his team’s formation once again as he remonstrated with the referee.

Less than ten minutes later, Raheem Sterling found the back of the net for Chelsea after a sweeping move involving Nicolas Jackson, but Jackson was deemed offside in the build-up and the goal was disallowed.

Then, with the scores still 0-0 in the second-half, Van Dijk seemed to have put Liverpool ahead, heading the ball in from a free kick, sparking wild celebrations on and off the field.

But his goal was also chalked off after Endo was judged to be offside by the video assistant referee (VAR) and was deemed to have blocked defender Levi Colwell from reaching Van Dijk.

The game became increasingly frantic as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, with both teams racking up a combined 31 shots on goal in regular time according to Opta. Somehow, though, the score remained goalless.

In an attempt to prevent Liverpool tiring, Klopp threw on his young substitutes – including 18-year-old Jayden Danns, 19-year-old James McConnell and 19-year-old Bobby Clark – marking the most teenagers appearing for a single team in a Carabao Cup final since 2007. By the end of the game, five of Liverpool’s players on the pitch were younger than 21.

Chelsea and Liverpool mustered another 12 shots in extra-time but only Van Dijk’s header from Kostas Tsimikas’ corner yielded the decisive goal.

He fell to the floor and was mobbed by his teammates while Klopp celebrated with staff on the touchlines and fans threw red flares onto the pitch, marking another trophy in Klopp’s time at Liverpool.

It was the first step in the Reds’ mission to win four trophies this season. It currently sits top of the English Premier League, faces Sparta Prague in the last-16 of the Europa League and has a fifth-round tie against Southampton in the FA Cup.

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