The margins are sometimes impossibly thin. Liverpool and Chelsea have met four times this season and drawn four times. But in each of the two cup finals, Liverpool have won on penalties.
The Reds have another taste of glory and can enjoy more; Chelsea has nothing. This wasn’t exactly the 22-shot marathon of February’s League Cup final, but it took 14 shots here to separate the sides, Liverpool’s GK Alisson finally saving Chelsea’s Mason Mount before the unlikely figure of the Reserve left-back Kostas Tsimikas will win the FA Cup for Liverpool.
150 years since the first FA Cup Final, this was a day for history: the first 0-0 draw in an FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium (albeit the fifth overall) and the first penalty shoot-out in the FA Cup Final at Wembley (albeit third overall). It was also the first FA Cup win for Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp; by winning both domestic Cups this season, he has begun to answer the objection that, despite Liverpool’s obvious brilliance, he hasn’t really won many trophies there. That’s four major trophies now, with the possibility of two more coming this season.
And that, perhaps, is the true meaning of Liverpool’s victory. When Edouard Mendy saved his Senegal teammate Sadio Mané to take the shootout to sudden death, there was a distinct sense of danger. No team has reached this stage of the season before with hopes of a quadruple (Champions League, Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup) still alive, but given that Manchester City are clear favorites for the Premier League However, the prospect of Liverpool ending the season with the less prestigious of England’s two domestic trophies seemed very real, and that creates a pressure of its own.
However, there were consequences to the victory. Mohamed Salah was forced out in the first half with a groin injury and Virgil van Dijk broke through at the end of regulation time. There must be doubts about the form of both for the two remaining games of the League and also for the Champions League final against Real Madrid in fifteen days.
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For Chelsea this was the end of an era. Roman Abramovich’s time as owner won’t end with a trophy in his final season, and all that’s left to play for is ensuring he qualifies for next season’s Champions League under the Todd Boehly-led consortium. Form has disintegrated in recent weeks and there are big doubts about the centre-forward position.
With Kai Havertz injured, Romelu Lukaku started but had little impact on the game, and Timo Werner was sidelined with a hamstring injury picked up in warm-ups. That left midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek forced into a brief and unconvincing emergency duty at centre-forward. He was then eliminated by the less prominent Ross Barkley, a strange sequence of events which in part meant the defenders had to take penalties in the penalty shootout.
However, Chelsea were not far from winning this. The two teams produced four hours of goalless football at Wembley this season, most of it absorbing, but with a distinct sense of two managers who know each other extremely well canceling each other out (although there were 58 shots).
Those opening minutes were reminiscent of the semi-final in which Liverpool had crushed Manchester City at half time. Time and time again, Luis Diaz found space, exploiting the seemingly shaky understanding between right-back Reece James and Trevoh Chalobah, on the right of the bottom three, but once that avenue was closed, it was probably Chelsea who seemed more likely to score. . Attacking midfielder Mason Mount, as always, looked the most likely to create the breakthrough, striker Christian Pulisic opened up two decent chances, while left-back Marcos Alonso, in addition to hitting the bar with a free kick from a tight angle, found space repeatedly. behind Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
As the game progressed, Liverpool seemed fitter. Diaz’s frustrating afternoon continued with more near misses, an effort that clipped the outside of the right post. A minute later, Andy Robertson struck hard against the left post, but Chelsea held on for extra time, at which point everything seemed curiously old-fashioned. The weariness and anxiety were evident, less because of Wembley’s famous Cumberland lawn than because both teams have played a lot of football this season, with Chelsea winning the Club World Cup and Liverpool reaching the Champions League final.
Liverpool briefly appeared to be in danger of having the kind of season that characterized Leeds under Don Revie: delving into every competition, running out and winning very little. Two trophies are in the bag now this season, two more are still possible. Liverpool need a favor from West Ham against Manchester City on Sunday, but even if the league eludes the Reds, Paris at the end of the month could offer a glorious treble of cups.
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