Chelsea – Liverpool: A Tale Of Two Teambuilding Exercises (0-1, After Extra Time)

At what point is one sure of a sunken cost? Chelsea have splashed the cash on more than a billion pounds worth of players to no avail since the summer of 2022— and they will have to wait longer to see any return on that investment. Klopp conjured a remarkable moment to mark his legacy at Liverpool, conclusively showing how expenditure cannot ensure success.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.


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Liverpool’s long goodbye to Jürgen Klopp could culminate in the most striking success on his resume. Their Europa League journey continues in the last 16 of the competition next month, and they are still league leaders with six victories from seven Premier League games in the new year. The quadruple is a fabled feat, but if it will happen on this occasion, the Reds require history to repeat itself. They have already twice inflicted woes at Wembley on the opponent they face in the final of the Carabao Cup.

If this clash could constrain the legacy of Klopp, it might impact the right of Mauricio Pochettino to reconfigure his. As a man with a record of blowing big challenges at the final hurdle, he has returned to square one in his latest post. Chelsea are muddling through the consequences of the construction of this team. While it has been another year of mediocrity around the middle of the table, their displays against the best outfits in the division indicated this might not be as cut as dry an affair on the day.

Pochettino could also pick a settled selection. He sent out the same starting eleven that secured the 1-1 draw at the Etihad against Manchester City a week ago. Đorđe Petrović has held onto the number one jersey between the posts. Levi Colwill joined Axel Disasi in the center of defense, and Ben Chilwell was on the left of the back four. Moisés Caicedo, Enzo Fernández, and Conor Gallagher filled the three spots in midfield. Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer flanked central forward Nicolas Jackson.

On the other hand, problems pile up for Klopp within his squad. Mo Salah and Darwin Núñez bagged goals at Brentford but are the latest additions to the injury list. So, Harvey Elliott and Cody Gakpo stayed in the front three with Luis Díaz. Fate has denied Curtis Jones the right to feature in this final, freeing a position in the middle of the park for Ryan Gravenberch. Caoimhin Kelleher continued to deputize as the goalkeeper, while Ibrahima Konaté and Andy Robertson added experience at the back.


Stability and stress switch expected poles

Despite the strength of the two sides, it was Liverpool that started this match with more confidence. The press from the Reds highlighted errors at the back: Malo Gusto struggled to make his first touch stick in the early phases, while both central defenders were guilty of a few turnovers. That nerviness subsequently mapped onto the shot count. Klopp’s men had already registered four shots within the first quarter of an hour, whereas their opponents would only record half of that tally before the break.

Another contributory factor was a lack of discipline in the midfield. Fernández found himself a step slow in duels and patrolling his zone in the pivot. On more than one occasion, Liverpool could charge through the center of the field, picking up loose second balls or breaking through with dribbles, and as the play stretched vertically, Díaz engaged the last line with ball carries from the outside on the left.

However, fate continued to conspire against Liverpool. Caicedo clamped Gravenberch, causing him to sustain an ankle injury. He left the field on a stretcher, so Klopp called on Gomez within half an hour of kickoff with a cascade of positional alterations. He filled in as the right back, Mac Allister moved to the left of midfield, Elliott dropped to the right of Endo, and Bradley advanced as the right winger.


11th minute: offensive transition for Liverpool. Fernández had previously advanced to press Kelleher and Chelsea retrieved possession. Sterling poked the ball to the midfielder, who attempted a risky roulette but conceded possession. He hacked at Wataru Endo from a weak stance and his direct opponent can dribble into open room. Caicedo has to shadow him laterally, but Endo continues to drive forward. Díaz could not secure an ensuing pass, the play continued to pass by Fernández.


Gallagher goes for the jugular

Even before this blow, Pochettino’s men had already started to show they could threaten Liverpool’s back four with their offensive pieces. In the 20th minute, Gallagher ran into a free channel behind Robertson and accessed Sterling inside the box. The winger juggled the ball, and Palmer latched onto the chance to lash a strike at goal. Kelleher was equal to the effort to stop his side from falling behind.

Palmer has already established his impact as a figure with an eye for the final action. His through ball to Jackson could have been another one in the buildup to a goal for Sterling, but VAR deemed that the central forward had been offside. Another individual who had ruptured the defense was Gallagher. His channel runs broke lines, and his ability to set and draw fouls earned set-pieces across the ninety minutes. Indeed, his display would have been complete if he had etched his name on the scoresheet.


52nd minute: offensive transition from Chelsea. Jackson drifted to the left as an outlet on the break and engages Konaté. He shifted inside the defender and connects with Gallagher, whose run into the box forces the retreating defense to cover. Virgil van Dijk shifts laterally to track him, and Robertson blocked Fernández. Sterling and Palmer were free but his backheel does not seize on the opening.


He nearly scored twice in the second half. Palmer opened the angle on the dribble from the right to assist him in a position between the central defenders in the penalty area, where he pushed the ball onto the post. The pair then connected on a breakaway in the 85th minute as Kelleher repelled him. The ball would go in the back of the net again after the break: Virgil van Dijk headed home from a free kick, and VAR again intervened, chalking off the goal for an offside obstruction from Endo.


Poch in a pinch; Klopp’s kids come of age

Pochettino put on two wingers in extra time to bring new life to the offense. Mykhailo Mudryk came on for Jackson, and Nkunku now operated as the central forward. Noni Madueke entered the fray on the right of the offense, and Palmer took the place of Gallagher in the hole behind Nkunku. Robertson came off for Kostas Tsimikas, the second senior player on the bench. So, the extra reserves were the youth. Bradley and Elliott returned to their initial positions. Bobby Clark and James McConnell were in midfield with Endo, and Jayden Danns would earn only his second appearance for the first team.

The momentum was with Chelsea in the closing moments of the second half, and they could have expected to assert the quality of their players on the pitch. Yet, Chelsea conceded the initiative in this period. Palmer neither offers the same security of second balls and stability as Gallagher nor could he connect in the pockets. For the second week in a row, Nkunku could not offer relief as an outlet at the front, while the wingers were not decisive in the final third. The balance bent back towards Liverpool.


108th minute: offensive transition for Chelsea. Palmer had connected with Fernández to release his teammate into a 4-on-3 situation on the break. Nkunku’s movement attracted van Dijk, so Fernández passes to Madueke on his right. The winger takes a bumpy first touch and cannot change the picture with a drag to hook the ball away from the defender. Once he slows down, red shirts retreat and McConnell cuts out a cutback to Palmer. A similar scenario subsequently played out with Mudryk.


Wembley anticipated the prospect of penalties for a third time in a row between the two teams. But a final twist in the tale awaited the crowd. Clark crafted a shooting lane in the penalty area, earning a corner in the 117th minute. Tsimikas whipped a delivery from the set-piece towards the near post, where van Dijk launched his movement. He leaped above Mudryk, rooted to the floor in his zone, and thundered a header into the net. This time around, the officials saw no reason to ruin the storyline.


Takeaways

No matter what happens in the next three months, Liverpool can look back on the season with at least one piece of silverware to celebrate the end of Klopp’s time at the club. He called this cup final the most special moment in his managerial career. It is a credit to construction of a squad with mainly a mix of starters that shift the needle at the highest level and academy graduates whose path is free of blockage from squad fillers. That is a lesson most of the Premier League can observe and appropriate.

Pochettino’s players will feel the pain of this loss. That sensation is quite acute for Chelsea, who have suffered a sixth defeat in a row in a cup final in the last five years. The club could have rubberstamped a different impression on the season, but it will likely go down in history as an unmitigated failure. Pochettino has still not solved their issues of finishing and shaky set-piece defending, but these are illustrations of squad holes that would harm efforts of most managers to take the team back to the top.



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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]

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