Jürgen Klopp was being interviewed after the match and was asked by Sky Sports if he felt vindicated at selecting Caoimhin Kelleher to start in goal, even after pundits across the football universe said he should play Alisson Becker because it’s a final and you want your best guys out there. But Jürgen responded with this: “I am two things: a professional football manager and a human being. And the human being won!” That’s a quite poignant consideration to make in this, one of the darker hours of an extremely dark time in the modern globo-socio-politisphere. From his perspective, Caoimhin is the guy who got us here, playing every League Cup match, and Caoimhin should be the guy who brings us through the final. Managers have to make a lot of uncomfortable decisions. You’ll notice that League Cup hero, Takumi Minamino, didn’t make it on for the final. So, in some respects, Jürgen was still a football manager in that he wanted to win the game and it was wiser to load the front line with Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, and Luis Diaz. But in at least one small way, he also wanted to ensure that someone who came through those early rounds against Norwich and Preston North End and Leicester and proved that he could fill the role was given the opportunity to finish the job. That’s the human thing to do. As it turns out, it was also a fine manager’s thing to do, since Caoimhin played excellently, making a few great saves, winning his third shootout of the tournament, and controlling his box whenever called upon to do so. Edouard Mendy will deservedly get more of the accolades because Liverpool put him under more pressure than Chelsea applied to Caoimhin. For example, he had to control his box a lot more often, given our 11 corners to Chelsea’s 2.
But the fact that you can cite both goalkeepers as the stars of their respective shows is demonstrative of the quality of the game. We’ve all slogged through those 0-0 draws where the ball struggles to get through the middle third and there’s 9 or 10 guys packed into each box whenever the ball does make it that far and there’s really nothing enjoyable about watching. This match was not that, in any way, shape, or form. From beginning to end, both teams were on it. Chelsea was definitely trying to play on the counter, but if given an opportunity to come forward, they took it. My friend, Michael, a long-time Barcelona fan, texted me partway through the second half, saying: “As a neutral, this has been a wildly entertaining match. Two of the five or six best teams in the world. Can’t remember a UCL Final being played at this level by both sides.” I told him it was just as entertaining for us, on top of the neurosis-inducing pressure. I then went on to complain about the current application of the offside rule and VAR in England, but that’s normal. But we were all enjoying it because we are humans who like football and this was a good way to not think about all the darker things that have been happening in the past few years and, of course, the past few days for those in Ukraine. Keeping in mind that human side, we should perhaps extend some sympathy to Mendy and Kepa Arrizabelaga…
The former played a brilliant game and was subbed out at the last minute so that the latter could be brought in specifically to handle penalty kicks. He then proceeded to not save any of the 11 penalties sent at him, including a Panenka by Fabinho, a left corner shot that he basically dared Virgil Van Dijk to take, and the kick of former-striker-now-keeper, Caoimhin Kelleher. Kepa then skied his own kick somewhere into row 47 at Wembley, giving us the win. It would’ve made an excellent goal kick, which is probably why most keepers don’t take penalties. That added a somewhat absurdist end to a phenomenal match. But it was still a great game that added weight to those who like to refute curmudgeons like me about the League Cup and, indeed, why it’s still being played. I still don’t think it’s a worthwhile competition and probably never will, but it’s also a trophy that the boys can shake in the air and point to in Anfield’s museum alongside the rest of the silverware. It’s something that earns you a medal and the lasting memories of a great day in England’s national stadium. And it’s those memories, that feeling of camaraderie, of accomplishment, of joy that, indeed, make us human. If that’s what we all come away from this with, then it’s all worth it.
Liverpool 0 (11) – 0 (10) Chelsea
Opta’s xG assessment is actually among the lower ones that I’ve seen. Paul Carr, of TruMedia, said 1.84 to 2.41 in our favor, for example. In other words, a very even match, but with Liverpool having a decent attacking edge. I’d be writing all night if I tried to spotlight every good play and/or every player who had a good-to-spectacular game in this match, as the whole team and, really, both teams played really well; starters and subs alike. The EFL said that Virg deserved the Alan Hardaker trophy for MotM and that was for this:
You can add 9 duels won and include 6 of those completed passes being long passes (30 yards or more.) As mentioned above, that penalty scored was probably the highlight of the whole shootout, given Kepa’s odd behavior that Virg essentially dismissed by shooting right where Kepa was daring him to, anyway:
It’s the staredown afterwards that cracked me up. He should probably have it in his contract that any depiction of him by the club has to be accompanied by the words “Supremely confident.” But not all of the brilliance was on the defensive end, as Caley’s diagram above displays.
Again, I go back to the clichéd nature of phrases like “He looks like a Liverpool player already!” except that, again, he really does. One of those long passes that Virg completed was to Luis. It was a towering ball from deep in our end in the first half and Luis brought it down with one touch and immediately launched an attack like he’d been doing it for years. It’s borderline uncanny how good he already is in our system. When you think of all of the excellent players that we’ve acquired over the years that took a significant amount of time to come to grips with our system and/or Premier League football (Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Thiago Alcãntara, etc.), the fact that Luis has almost literally just walked in the door and become a starter in a cup final and looks entirely like he belongs is of a very different tune. I mean, look at this:
“Ridiculous” is right. This also means, of course, that Luis’ long wait to win a trophy with Liverpool is over (27 whole days.) But there are other offensive stars to talk about, too. Sadio created the most chances of any player on the pitch in the first half with four. Trent Alexander-Arnold had the most for the game with six. And on and on. Again, superlatives can be broadly applied to everyone who set foot on the grass. It was simply a great match.
Speaking of trophies, there are many arguments as to what constitutes a “major” trophy so, depending on how you add it up, some people have been tweeting that today brought us the edge over ManU, 43-42, while others’ totals meant today just added to our already present lead, 49-45, and so on. But no matter how you look at it, we’re the winningest club in English football so, yeah. I could go on a mild rant here about the absurdity of the offside rule and how it’s applied with VAR but I’m just not going to be bothered right now. That’s the first trophy of what could be four this season- a quadruple -that would increase our lead even more and that’s enough for now.
We have to play an FA Cup match against Norwich City in three days that will be our fourth meeting with them this season and then we’re back in the PL mixer with West Ham on Saturday. The pace does not stop.