Soccer

Virgil van Dijk leads Liverpool to Carabao Cup glory with winner against Chelsea

Jurgen Klopp became the third Liverpool manager to win the trophy more than once.

Virgil van Dijk with the trophy after winning the Carabao Cup
Virgil van Dijk with the trophy after winning the Carabao Cup (Nick Potts/PA) Virgil van Dijk with the trophy after winning the Carabao Cup (Adam Davy/PA)

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk headed the winner deep into extra time as Jurgen Klopp’s massively-depleted side beat Chelsea 1-0 to claim a record-extending 10th Carabao Cup.

The Dutch defender, who controversially had another header ruled out at the same end in the second half after VAR intervention, rose above Mykhailo Mudryk to nod in Kostas Tsimikas’ corner in the 118th minute.

It was no more than the Netherlands international, lifting his first trophy as Liverpool captain, deserved after a monumental performance in defence in a win which seemed against the odds for long periods.

Klopp became the third Liverpool manager to win the trophy more than once as his long goodbye to his departure at the end of the season began with the first of a potential four pieces of silverware.

But for opposite number Mauricio Pochettino his long wait for an English domestic trophy continues.

A Liverpool side already missing 11 first-teamers, including Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szobozslai, who did not pass late fitness tests, lost Ryan Gravenberch inside half-an-hour.

Their bench had six players aged 21 or under on the bench – with Trey Nyoni only 16 – and three of them were on the pitch at the end of regulation time.

By contrast Chelsea’s recent billion-pound spending spree meant Trevoh Chalobah, on the bench, was their only player in the squad remaining from the 2022 final meeting.

The longer the game went on, the more it played into the Blues’ hands with their deeper squad resources and by the end of normal time, Liverpool’s team resembled one more befitting the third round of this competition than the final.

Ryan Gravenberch was an early injury casualty
Ryan Gravenberch was an early injury casualty (Nick Potts/PA) Ryan Gravenberch was an early injury casualty (Nick Potts/PA)

Pochettino had the luxury of bringing on Christopher Nkunku, Mudryk and Noni Madueke, acquired for a combined £171million.

Had it not been for the heroics of Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher and Conor Gallagher’s lack of composure in front of goal the game would have been over well before it was.

Chelsea were thankful for Chris Kavanagh’s generous interpretation of obstruction ruling out Van Dijk’s goal on the hour.

Liverpool’s captain was imperious and at times in the additional period it seemed he was the only thing holding back the blue tide, although the tireless Wataru Endo more than played his part in front of him.

Considering what they were facing late in the game Chelsea’s midfield misfired badly while the forward line offered little in the way of a threat.

When Gallagher was not being denied by a post he either found Kelleher recreating his heroics of two years ago against them or was just plain wasteful.

Conor Gallagher wasted several chances
Conor Gallagher wasted several chances (Nick Potts/PA) Conor Gallagher wasted several chances (Nick Potts/PA)

Kelleher had produced a brilliant stop in the 20th minute when Cole Palmer blasted the ball at him from six yards, with Endo denying Nicolas Jackson’s follow-up.

Moises Caicedo’s tackle on Gravenberch on the touchline – which was not even called a foul – saw the Dutchman depart on a stretcher.

That forced a reshuffle, with Joe Gomez coming on at right-back and Conor Bradley moving into the forward line to replace Harvey Elliott, who dropped back into midfield.

That allowed Chelsea to seize the momentum but when former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling turned home Jackson’s low cross the offside flag went up immediately.

Klopp’s side settled down and gained more control over their opponents’ more chaotic approach and Cody Gakpo directed a header against the post and Bradley had a goalbound shot blocked.

After the break Elliott’s volley was palmed away by Djordje Petrovic before Van Dijk powered home a header at the far post from Robertson’s free-kick.

Chris Kavanagh ruled out an earlier Van Dijk effort after a VAR review
Chris Kavanagh ruled out an earlier Van Dijk effort after a VAR review (Adam Davy/PA) Chris Kavanagh ruled out an earlier Van Dijk effort after a VAR review (Adam Davy/PA)

However, VAR asked Kavanagh to go to the monitor to rule on an offside Endo’s role in blocking Levi Colwill and he decided the centre-back would have had a chance of reaching Van Dijk.

The lack of a cool head continued to plague Chelsea and, after Axel Disasi missed a far-post volley from three yards, Gallagher hit the post with a cute close-range flick before being charged down by Kelleher with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Klopp sent on teenagers James McConnell and Jayden Danns and the latter almost had a dream introduction with his header tipped over.

Elliott’s header was somehow stopped on the line by Petrovic but he was powerless to deny the irresistible force of Van Dijk.