As in Feb­ru­ary’s League Cup final, “Chelsea“and Liv­er­pool did not score a sin­gle goal in 120 min­utes. Once again the Reds won the penal­ty shoot-out series.

Second final in three months

It was mid-May, and Liv­er­pool’s dreams of four tro­phies in a sea­son remained alive. This is cer­tain­ly unique. On the one hand, it is extreme­ly rare for any Euro­pean team to main­tain a chance of four titles at this stage (and one of them has already been won). On the oth­er hand, Liv­er­pool still had to make the final push in each of the three tour­na­ments. Poten­tial­ly leg­endary sea­son could turn into dis­ap­point­ment — the­o­ret­i­cal­ly the team Jur­gen Klopp risked being left with just the League Cup, the most bor­ing of the four pos­si­ble tro­phies.

Eng­land. Cup. The final

May 14, 18:45. Wem­b­ley (Lon­don)

Chelsea

0:0

Liv­er­pool

The FA Cup is the next old­est. And fun­ny enough, the final saw Liv­er­pool meet Chelsea again at Wem­b­ley, as they did in the oth­er cup com­pe­ti­tion in Feb­ru­ary.





That match end­ed in a goal­less draw, but was spec­tac­u­lar: a parade of dis­al­lowed goals, fan­tas­tic goal­keep­ing and a dra­mat­ic penal­ty shootout — sub­sti­tute Chelsea goal­keep­er Kepa Arriz­a­bal­a­ga missed his 22nd shot after 21 goals from the rest of the match, giv­ing Liv­er­pool the tro­phy. Nat­u­ral­ly, even now we were expect­ing some­thing extra­or­di­nary.

Powerful start for the Reds

The begin­ning of the final was indeed promis­ing. Liv­er­pool crushed their oppo­nents in the first 15 min­utes and could have scored sev­er­al times: Thi­a­go Alcan­tara was a cen­time­ter short of fin­ish­ing off Luis Diaz’s pass, and the Colom­bian him­self failed to cap­i­tal­ize on a one-on-one oppor­tu­ni­ty. Chelsea strug­gled to cope with the pres­sure. At one point, Edouard Mendy even ordered his team to run away from the penal­ty area — the Blues goal­keep­er saw that dur­ing a short goal kick there was a risk of los­ing the ball, so he decid­ed to kick it into the mid­dle of the field.

Liv­er­pool cre­at­ed chances after suc­cess­ful press­ing and quick throws behind the defend­ers, and Chelsea, who woke up in the mid­dle of the first half, caught the oppo­nent in free space. It is no secret that the Reds’ play­ers delib­er­ate­ly destroy the struc­ture when press­ing high and lose their posi­tions, free­ing up space for oppo­nents to coun­ter­at­tack. Chelsea occa­sion­al­ly man­aged to find areas, espe­cial­ly on the flank of Trent Alexan­der-Arnold, who tra­di­tion­al­ly blun­dered in defense.

Salah injury

Over­all, noth­ing new. And before the start­ing whis­tle, one could assume that the Liv­er­pool for­wards would force the Chelsea defend­ers to make mis­takes, and the Blues would look for gaps between the ene­my lines. But some­thing that was impos­si­ble to pre­dict inter­vened in the game. Dur­ing the first half, four play­ers from both teams were assist­ed, which caused Liv­er­pool to lose the rhythm of the game. And also lost Mo Sala­ha.

Mohamed Salah was injured in the FA Cup final.  Photo by Global Look Press
Mohamed Salah was injured in the FA Cup final.
Pho­to by Glob­al Look Press

While Mendy, Thi­a­go Sil­va and Alis­son returned to the game after their injuries, the Egypt­ian had to be replaced by Dio­go Jota. More­over, the exact moment of the injury is unclear: Salah sim­ply sud­den­ly lay down on the lawn while Alis­son was being treat­ed. If this is a mus­cle injury, then the Liv­er­pool leader has a chance of recov­ery in time for the Cham­pi­ons League final on May 28.

Fire from Londoners

Salah’s injury has clear­ly crip­pled Liv­er­pool. And it’s not even a mat­ter of eas­ing the pres­sure and reduc­ing the sever­i­ty at Mendy’s goal, but of psy­chol­o­gy. Per­haps feel­ing it Thomas Tuchel ener­gized the team in the lock­er room for an active start to the sec­ond half. And Chelsea had a phe­nom­e­nal run: in each of the first three min­utes of the sec­ond half, the blue play­ers cre­at­ed one hun­dred per­cent chance, and Mar­cos Alon­so even hit the cross­bar. Pos­ses­sion from the 45th to the 60th minute looked anom­alous: 65 per­cent in Chelsea’s favour.

Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. Klopp and Tuchel are the Fed­er­er and Nadal of foot­ball. Who will take the lead in terms of tro­phies?

The Blues method­i­cal­ly stretched Liv­er­pool’s defence, and with a per­for­mance like this they missed Havertz sore­ly. The Ger­man’s injury became known on the day of the match, so Chelsea had no alter­na­tive — only the heavy­weight Romelu Lukaku. And the Bel­gian looked like a for­eign body to the Lon­don­ers.

Jota also did not fit into the game, although from the mid­dle of the sec­ond half he began to touch the ball more often. As, indeed, are the rest of the Liv­er­pool play­ers. Klop­p’s team bare­ly over­came Chelsea’s onslaught and returned to the attack towards the end of nor­mal time. The Reds could have eas­i­ly com­plet­ed the match before the 90th minute: Diaz and Andy Robert­son hit each of the posts with­in a minute of each oth­er. And simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with the start of added time, the omnipresent Colom­bian almost cre­at­ed a mas­ter­piece.

Another penalty shootout scenario

Diaz gen­er­al­ly played well and was the most active on the field along with Mason Mount. But at the begin­ning of over­time, Klopp unex­pect­ed­ly replaced him. Virgeil van Dijk also left — appar­ent­ly, the Ger­man coach is think­ing about the upcom­ing Cham­pi­ons League final, so he is sav­ing the best.

But most of all the fans were wor­ried about anoth­er replace­ment — Mendy for Kepa. In the League Cup final, this move did not work: the Spaniard did not save a sin­gle shot and did not con­vert his own. Here Tuchel found him­self in exact­ly the same sit­u­a­tion: 0:0, Wem­b­ley, 120 min­utes expir­ing and a chance to make an exchange of goal­keep­ers. This time the Ger­man decid­ed dif­fer­ent­ly — the Sene­galese remained in goal. This is prob­a­bly log­i­cal: the super­sti­tious Chelsea even chose yel­low shirts in this final, because they lost in the Feb­ru­ary final in blue. Since visu­al adjust­ments fol­lowed, it was appro­pri­ate to see tac­ti­cal ones as well.

The order also changed: in the League Cup final, Liv­er­pool beat first, and here Chelsea start­ed. And if in Feb­ru­ary the first and only miss occurred after 21 shots, now the third strik­er has missed: Cesar Azpilicue­ta hit the post.

The Spaniard’s mis­take could have been fatal. Sadio Mane need­ed to con­vert his team’s fifth strike to give Liv­er­pool vic­to­ry. But his com­pa­tri­ot Mendy kept Chelsea in the game and turned the series into a stand-off until the first miss. The Mount trem­bled: Alis­son saved the Eng­lish­man’s shot, and Kostas Tsimikas com­plet­ed the final.

As in the League Cup in Feb­ru­ary, Liv­er­pool beat Chelsea in a penal­ty shootout. The Reds have already won two tro­phies this sea­son. To achieve a his­toric achieve­ment, the almost impos­si­ble remains to be achieved: win­ning the Pre­mier League and the Cham­pi­ons League.