London, Feb 27 (EFE).- With three goals nullified, one of the best scoreless contests in recent years, extra time and a 22-shot penalty shootout, Liverpool was the last gladiator standing at Wembley Stadium before 85,512 fans on Sunday as it defeated Chelsea for its record ninth Carabao Cup after Kepa failed to hit on his 11th penalty kick in the shootout.
The Carabao Cup, as it is currently known for sponsorship reasons, is also known as the EFL Cup and referred to historically and colloquially as the League Cup, is the annual knockout soccer competition and major trophy in men’s domestic English soccer.
In the final drama of the contest, Liverpool goaltender Caoimhin Kelleher went up against Kepa Arrizabalaga, brought onto the pitch specifically for the shootout, and scored 11 spot-kicks to his rival’s 10, the Spaniard missing only on his final shot and thus delivering the trophy to the Reds, who had not lifted it since 2012.
It was one of the best-ever 0-0 matches, with lots of electricity, reversals and occasional failures, but with the two squads – despite numerous attempts – seemingly unable to get anything on the board that would stick.
Both teams had goals ruled out for offside during regular time with Liverpool’s Joel Matip scoring only to have the tally cancelled due to Virgil Van Dijk’s violation and Chelsea substitute Romelu Lukaku going fractionally offside.
The match went into extra time, but neither team was able to get anything going there either and finally everything hinged on the two goaltenders in an unusual and thrilling shootout.
Kelleher seemingly had the advantage, having played in every Carabao Cup game this season except for one, while Kepa had been on the pitch a similar amount of time in cup play although his game time in the final had not even amounted to three minutes as per manager Thomas Tuchel’s decision.
Romelu Lukaku was not in Chelsea’s starting 11 and Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara went down with an injury during the warm-up and could not play.
With Alcantara out, Jurgen Klopp’s men had problems early on dealing with the Chelsea attackers, although Kelleher stopped a point-blank shot by Christian Pulisic, but Liverpool soon found their stride and began to dominate the match with good ball control and possession time, both teams firing several shots on goal in the early going.
Scoreless at the break, Mount flubbed a perfect chance for Chelsea after play resumed, a busted shot that brought Tuchel to his knees in dismay and frustration on the sideline.
Liverpool mistakenly thought they’d finally gotten the 1-0 when Matip headed in a head-pass from Mane, but VAR review nullified the tally due to Van Dijk’s offside.
Chelsea’s Werner nullified a shot into the net by Havertz due to being offside, and in the 95th minute Lukaku’s goal was exed out for offside and in the second extra period Havertz also had a goal canceled for the same reason.
Tuchel inserted Kepa for the shootout, pulling Mendy, who’d done good work during the back-and-forth on the pitch and he matched Kelleher goal for goal through 10 shots each until ultimately the Irishman fired another perfect shot into the net but the Spaniard failed to find the twine for the final result.
Chelsea: Mendy (Kepa, m.120); Azpilicueta (James, m.57), Chalobah, Silva, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Kovacic (Jorginho, m.106); Mount (Lukaku, m.74), Pulisic (Werner, m.74), Havertz.
Liverpool: Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold, Matip (Konate, m.91), Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson (Elliott, m.79), Fabinho, Keita (Milner, m.80); Salah, Mane (Jota, m.80), Diaz (Origi, m.97).