The feeling of déjà vu was undeniable. For the second time this season, Chelsea and Liverpool met in a final at Wembley and, as in the Carabao Cup at the end of February, the margins were extremely tight. Everyone knew it could come down to a moment – a flash of magic or even a mistake.
It was not as open as the previous opus, heavy legs after a long season, after all that the two clubs have been through. For Chelsea, there was the emotional exhaustion of the impending takeover. Liverpool, meanwhile, have their sights set on a historic quadruple, the challenges without remorse. But there were still chances at both ends and decent chances too. As everyone begged, the tension increased further.
For a glimpse of the drama, look no further than the roughly 60 seconds from the 83rd minute when Liverpool created two openers and hit every post at the end. First, Luis Díaz’s non-stop shot against the outside of the right post, then Andy Robertson, who arrived to meet a cross from substitute James Milner, crushed his effort against the other.
Chelsea had begged for what Thomas Tuchel called an ‘injection of positivity’ and they almost got it in normal times, before the slow and inevitable march to penalties which is how the Carabao Cup final was decided, with Liverpool winning a marathon shootout 11-10.
There were big chances for Christian Pulisic and Marcos Alonso in the first half and Alonso again after the break. The left-back also shook off the crossbar with a free kick. The ball just wouldn’t go in, nor would it for Liverpool and, in particular, DiazDíaz.
And so we went once again, to the ultimate test of nerve. It was Chelsea substitute keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who cracked last time out, lifting his kick high above the crossbar. This time, there were more failures: César Azpilicueta in the second round for Chelsea, Sadio Mané at the end of the fifth round, whose kick to win was brilliantly saved by Édouard Mendy, his Senegalese teammate.
Chelsea’s reprieve did not last. Alisson was Liverpool’s hero in the second round of sudden death, going the right way to deny Mason Mount and paving the way for Liverpool substitute Kostas Tsimikas to earn it. Red flares lit up the scene. With the FA Cup, Jürgen Klopp had completed the series of trophies with Liverpool.
The occasion was framed by the encounter between the teams in the previous final, which brought Liverpool their first trophy of the season – and by what has happened to Chelsea since. Three days before that previous encounter, Roman Abramovich’s grip on the club began to unravel as Russia invaded Ukraine and Chelsea were forced to operate under a cloud.
A lot of things were put on hold and Tuchel didn’t try to pretend the dressing room wasn’t affected. Under bright blue skies and after Pete Tong had finished rolling out some classics, Chelsea’s plan was to spark a resurgence.
The atmosphere was pulsing and it was Liverpool who scored first, with Luis Díaz involved prominently on the left. Tuchel preferred Trevoh Chalobah over César Azpilicueta on the right of a back three, mainly for his quicker pace, but it was a concern for Chelsea when Díaz slipped away from him easily at the start to cross. Thiago couldn’t stretch enough to reach the ball.
Liverpool worked him repeatedly down the left early on and Trent Alexander-Arnold created a huge chance for Díaz with a sumptuous pass from outside the boot. Díaz was wide of Chalobah but Édouard Mendy denied it by removing the sting from his shot, Chalobah then clearing in front of the line.
Chelsea fought back after a difficult first half start and Christian Pulisic, working down the left, missed a decent chance and created an even better one for Alonso.
Tuchel wanted to create an overload down the right through Reece James and Mount, with Pulisic drifting for the final ball. Chelsea worked well on 23 minutes, with Mount clipping a low cross and Pulisic coming in to sweep the far corner. He trailed him narrowly but Chelsea could feel a boost of confidence.
Alonso had to do better when Pulisic played him having taken a pass from Mount, who was really in the mood. Pulisic’s weight on the ball was perfect but Alonso’s first touch was poor and it made Alisson’s block a formality. The goalkeeper had been typically quick to come out.
Klopp had to work without Mohamed Salah from the 32nd minute, after the winger felt a pinch that will worry Liverpool in the countdown to the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28.
Diogo Jota then missed a great chance before the break. Mané led a break after Mateo Kovacic lost the ball, initially going to the right, but when his team came back to the other side, Andy Robertson crossed and Jota timed his run well. He lifted the volley high.
Chelsea finished the first half with Romelu Lukaku shooting half a chance. They started again with the bit between their teeth and creating a flurry of chances, with Alonso so close to the breakthrough.
He trailed past the far post after Alexander-Arnold got caught under a cross from Pulisic, then hit the crossbar with a whipped free kick from a tight angle down the right. Pulisic also worked Alisson after a layoff from Lukaku.
Díaz spun at the edge of the area and fired a shot just wide, and it felt like the game was coming to a boil. Tuchel whipped Chelsea fans; he felt that something was happening.
Tuchel asked James to defend closer to Díaz to help Chalobah but Liverpool pushed again, squeezing higher, connecting their passes and rising up the flanks. There was another good chance for Jota after being found by Naby Keïta, only for the striker to drag on unnecessarily.