Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool (0-1 AET): Talking points as Reds claim first 2023/24 trophy

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial 26 Feb 2024

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Since Jurgen Klopp announced his departure from Liverpool at the end of the season, there’s been plenty of talk about his team giving him the best possible send-off after a glorious nine-year spell. They got off to a fine start on Sunday, beating Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final to claim the first of the four trophies they’ve been competing for this season.

Despite a very lively contest with plenty of chances at both ends of the pitch, the regular 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) ended goalless. But three minutes before the end of the second extra-time period, Virgil van Dijk headed a Kostas Tsimikas corner past a very good Djordje Petrovic in the Chelsea goal to settle the affair.

The game

The contest was an extremely dynamic one, with plenty of desire from both sides to win. Liverpool dominated early, but after about 15 minutes, Chelsea returned the pressure, determined not to allow their rivals to have it all the way they wanted it.

Petrovic was seriously tested by Luis Diaz in the 14th minute. In the 32nd, Raheem Sterling got on the end of a fine pass from Nicolas Jackson to put the ball in the back of the net, but linesman raised his flag to signal Jackson had been offside before playing the pass and a lengthy VAR check confirmed the call. Five minutes later, a top-level interception by Andy Robertson prevented Cole Palmer from finishing off an excellent team move by Chelsea. Liverpool then came very close through Cody Gakpo, whose header hit the post.

Chelsea had a great chance seven minutes into the second half as Jackson broke down the left, engaged Conor Gallagher who extended the pass to Enzo Fernandez on the edge of the six-yard box. The Argentinian midfielder was turned away from the goal with only Robertson and goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher behind him, and no less than two teammates – Sterling and Palmer – completely unmarked close by. But instead of a simple lay-off for either of them to score, Fernandez tried a back-heel flick and scuffed it, allowing Kelleher to pick the ball up calmly. A seriously poor judgement from the former Benfica man, which left his teammates understandably fuming.

A couple of minutes later, Harvey Elliott tried a clever volley off the ground and steered it the right way, only to force another excellent save from Petrovic. Just before the hour mark, it was Liverpool’s turn to have a goal ruled out for offside, as Virgil van Dijk headed home but the VAR intervened, pointing out to referee Chris Kavanagh that Wataru Endo had influenced the game from an offside position.

Then it was Axel Disasi’s turn to waste a great chance for Chelsea, by failing to score from maybe a yard from the goal-line after a well-worked corner. Soon after, Gallagher was found by Malo Gusto inside the box and aimed carefully towards the far bottom corner, but the post prevented him from scoring. Chelsea substitute Christopher Nkunku came close with six minutes left on the clock, but the cross from Gusto that should’ve found him at the far post was slightly overhit.

And then, one minute later, Chelsea had their best chance of the game. Through quick transition, both vertically and horizontally, the Blues managed to work up a situation for Gallagher to go one-on-one with Kelleher, but the Irish goalkeeper channeled the spirit of the injured Alisson Becker as he stepped up and emerged victorious. Chelsea flooded Liverpool’s box with blue shirts in the second minute of stoppage time, but Kelleher again refused to be beaten as he denied Palmer and Nkunku from close range, helped by heroics from Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez too.

Having barely survived to the final whistle, Liverpool opened the extra-time as the better team and 18-year-old striker Jayden Danns put Petrovic through another difficult workout less than three minutes in. With less than six minutes of the second period left, the post denied an Elliott header from close range before the Chelsea defence prevented Danns from forcing the ball over the line.

And just as the prospect of a penalty shootout, third in the last three finals between these rivals, started seeming inevitable, with less than three minutes left, Liverpool won a corner from the right. Tsimikas swung it in, and Van Dijk escaped his marker to head into the net for the second time, and there was no VAR intervention to save Chelsea this time.

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The standards of officiating in English football have reach such depths this season that occasions on which the officials do a good job overall have become extremely rare, and unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those. It was a very, very poor day at the office for both the on-field referee and those operating in the VAR room.

Kavanagh made a host of wrong calls, and the only thing that can be said in his defence that his mistakes went both ways. Fouls given for no reason, obvious fouls not given at all. But every other mistake pales compared to the glaring one made just before the half-hour mark, when Moises Caicedo tackled Ryan Gravenberch and ended up late, smashing his studs on the standing ankle of the Netherlands international. The tackle twisted the ankle in a way that left no doubt about Gravenberch being unable to continue the match at first look. It was done with utter recklessness from the Ecuadorian, with excessive force, obviously putting the opponent in danger of serious injury.

And yet, Kavanagh missed it completely; no foul was given. And while he, perhaps, may have found it difficult to judge in real time on the pitch, the fact that he wasn’t sent to the pitch-side screen to review the incident for a possible red card is impossible to explain in any way that would make sense.

And yet, Gravenberch was stretchered off, forcing the already decimated Liverpool team to reshuffle as Gomez came on at right-back, young Conor Bradley moved to the right wing, and Elliott took up Gravenberch’s place in midfield. Caicedo, of course, got away with it, playing the full 120 minutes without getting booked, despite several other deeds which certainly warranted a yellow card.

There is very little to say about Sterling’s disallowed goal. With no lines on the screen, it looked unbelievably close. But the lines were eventually drawn, and they showed Jackson was indeed offside, if by the narrowest of margins. There was no way for the goal to be given, and Chelsea can be said to have been extremely unfortunate there – it was indeed a fine pass from the striker, and a good finish from the former Liverpool man.

On the other hand, the goal Van Dijk had ruled out required a little bit more discussion. As the cross came in from the left, Endo was offside, there can be no argument there, and he did block the path of Levi Collwill as he tried to make his run back into the box. So the question Kavanagh had to ask himself as he looked repeatedly at the situation on the screen was if Colwill was ever going to get to that ball without Endo there.

Some say he would, some say he wouldn’t, and some remain on the fence, claiming it was impossible to judge. But unless both VAR officials were absolutely sure the Chelsea defender could’ve prevented Van Dijk from scoring, it couldn’t have been considered a “clear and obvious error” by Kavanagh and his assistant, which means VAR shouldn’t have intervened and the on-field decision should have stood.

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On the other hand, there was one ridiculous moment when Kavanagh failed to give Chelsea a free-kick as Tsimikas’ sliding tackle took Noni Madueke out without getting anywhere near the ball, which then trickled out for a Liverpool goal-kick.

All in all, there was plenty in this game the PGMOL might want to study as “don’t to that” examples for their referees. But they probably won’t.

Pressure mounts on Pochettino

After the game, seeing his players get silver medals while their Liverpool counterparts lifted the trophy, Chelsea owner Todd Boehly might’ve wanted to write down the list of all the players Liverpool were missing in this final, show it to Mauricio Pochettino and say one word, explain. There was no Mohamed Salah, no Alisson Becker, no Trent Alexander-Arnold, or Dominik Szoboszlai, or Diogo Jota, or Darwin Nunez. Not to mention the long-term absentees for Liverpool, like Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip.

Or the list of all the academy players Liverpool had on the pitch towards the end against Chelsea’s big-money signings. Or both. Explain, Mauricio.

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Yet, the Chelsea manager has been given some more time to turn his team’s underwhelming season around. How long, remains to be seen.

Klopp’s last Liverpool march

Meanwhile, things could not be more different for Jurgen Klopp. The Liverpool boss is leaving the club at the end of the season, and the send-off his players are giving him is truly great at the moment. They’ve won the Carabao Cup. They’re still in the FA Cup and the Europa League, and they top the Premier League table ahead of a formidable Arsenal and defending champions, last season’s treble winners, Manchester City.

There have been reports claiming the Liverpool fans will be given a parade at the end of it all, regardless of further developments, and the charismatic German, whose time on Merseyside has truly been incredible, certainly deserves it being in his honour.

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Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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