The margins are sometimes incredibly thin. Liverpool and Chelsea have met four times this season and drawn four times. But in each of the two cup finals, Liverpool prevailed on penalties.
The Reds have yet another taste of glory and could enjoy more; Chelsea have nothing. It wasn’t quite the 22-kick marathon of the League Cup final in February, but it took 14 kicks here to separate the teams, Liverpool GK Alisson eventually saved from Mason Mount of Chelsea before the unlikely figure of left-back Kostas Tsimikas won the FA Cup for Liverpool.
150 years after the first FA Cup final, it was a day in history: the first ever 0-0 draw in an FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium (albeit the fifth overall) and the first ever FA Cup final penalty shoot-out at Wembley (although third overall). It was also Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp’s first FA Cup triumph; by winning both domestic cups this season, he began to respond to the argument that, despite Liverpool’s obvious brilliance, he hasn’t really won much silverware there. That’s four major trophies now, with the possibility of two more to come this season.
And that may be the true meaning of Liverpool’s victory. When Edouard Mendy saved from Senegalese team-mate Sadio Mané to lead the shootout to sudden death, there was a clear sense of danger. No team has ever reached this stage of the season before with the hope of a quadruple (Champions League, Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup) still alive, but given that Manchester City are favorites clear to the Premier League, the possibility of Liverpool ending the season with the less prestigious of England’s two domestic cup trophies seemed very real and that brings its own pressure.
There were consequences to victory, however. Mohamed Salah was sent off in the first half with a groin injury, and Virgil van Dijk was on his way at the end of regulation time. There must be doubts about the fitness of both for the final two games of the league season and also for the Champions League final against Real Madrid in a fortnight.
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For Chelsea, it 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 is to make sure he qualifies to play Champions League football. next season as part of the consortium led by Todd Boehly. Form has disintegrated over the past few weeks and there are big doubts over the centre-forward position.
With Kai Havertz injured, Romelu Lukaku started but had little impact on the game, and Timo Werner was left on the bench with a hamstring injury picked up during warm-ups. That left midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek forced into a brief and unconvincing emergency service as a central striker. He was then pulled for the less spotty Ross Barkley, a bizarre sequence of events that partly meant the defenders had to take penalties in the shootout.
However, Chelsea were not far from winning. Both teams have produced four hours of scoreless football at Wembley this season, most of it absorbing, but with a distinct feeling 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 won Manchester City at half-time. Again and again Luis Díaz found space, exploiting the seemingly shaky deal between right-back Reece James and Trevoh Chalobah, on the right of the back three, but once that avenue was closed, it was probably Chelsea who seemed most likely to score. Attacking midfielder Mason Mount, as always, looked most likely to create the breakthrough, with striker Christian Pulisic twice putting up decent chances, while left-back Marcos Alonso, in addition to hitting the bar with a kick blunt from a tight angle, repeatedly found space. behind Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
As the game progressed, Liverpool seemed in better shape. Díaz’ frustrating afternoon continued with more near misses, an effort clipping the outside of the right post. A minute later, Andy Robertson fired a shot against the left post, but Chelsea held on in extra time, at which point it all seemed oddly old-fashioned. The fatigue and anxiety were evident, less because of Wembley’s famous Cumberland turf than because both sides have played so much football this season, with Chelsea winning the Club World Cup and Liverpool reaching the Champions League final .
Liverpool briefly looked in danger of having the kind of season that characterized Leeds under Don Revie: going to the bottom of every competition, burning out and winning very little. Two trophies are now in the bag this season, two others remain 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 deliver a glorious treble of cups.
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