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'Klopp’s kids vs the billionaire bottle jobs': Young Reds take League Cup off Chelsea to start farewell tour

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25th February, 2024
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Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk has powered home a header in extra-time as his side beat Chelsea 1-0 in the League Cup final to clinch a record-extending 10th title in the competition and crown Juergen Klopp’s final season in charge with silverware.

Van Dijk rose high above his marker to head a corner back across goal and into the far corner in the 118th minute on Sunday, sparking wild celebrations among the Liverpool supporters massed at that end of Wembley Stadium.

With the club leading the Premier League and still in the FA Cup and Europa League, Liverpool’s fans will hope the latest triumph provides the launch pad for more trophies in Klopp’s swansong campaign, with the quadruple still within reach.

The Liverpool manager, who has announced he’ll leave after eight years at the end of the season, will take particular satisfaction in a victory achieved in testing circumstances, with the club facing an injury crisis that forced Klopp to put his faith in a host of young players.

They did not let him down.

On the Sky Sports coverage, Gary Neville – not a noted lover of Liverpool – paid tribute to the young Reds, though while also taking a potshot at Chelsea’s expensively assembled failures.

“In extra-time it’s been Klopp’s kids against the blue, billion-pound bottlejobs,” he said.

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“Liverpool have been absolutely sensational. Those young players have been incredible. Klopp must be so proud.

“However, for Chelsea, I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. Mauricio Pochettino’s players have shrunk. They have shrunk right in front of our eyes and in front of their fans.”

The Chelsea boss bit back in his post-match presser, pointing out that his side were equally youthful.

“If you compare the age of the two groups, it’s similar,” said the Argentinian.

“I have a good relationship with Gary, I can respect his opinion. We made a few changes for extra-time, but we didn’t keep the energy.

“For sure I feel proud. They made a big effort. We have a young team, and nothing to compare with Liverpool because they finished with young players on the pitch. It’s not fair to talk in this way, if he said that. We’re going to keep being strong and believing in this project.”

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In a captivating encounter, both sides had what they thought were opening goals ruled out for offside, with Raheem Sterling denied by the linesman’s flag for Chelsea before the break and Dutchman van Dijk’s header after the interval chalked off in a controversial call by the VAR.

The chances came thick and fast in a furious end-to-end encounter, with both sides hitting the woodwork and spurning numerous other opportunities.

Liverpool overcame a devastating injury list, with the likes of Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold, goalkeeper Alisson and Curtis Jones, key forwards Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez and midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai recently joining a number of longer term absentees on the sidelines.

They ended the game on Sunday with 19-year-olds James McConnell and Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns, 18, on the pitch, with the trio possessing barely a handful of first team appearances between them.

While Liverpool began the brighter, it was Chelsea who had the first chance in the 20th minute when the ball squirmed to Cole Palmer six yards out but his effort was brilliantly saved by Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Liverpool’s injury problems were then compounded when Ryan Gravenberch was taken off on a stretcher four minutes later after Moises Caicedo caught his ankle with a clumsy, mistimed tackle.

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Liverpool were then handed a reprieve by the lineman’s flag when Sterling tapped home from Nicolas Jackson’s pass, a tight offside call that VAR confirmed.

Cody Gakpo headed against the post from Andy Robertson’s cross near the end of the half, then van Dijk thought he had put them in front in the 60th minute.

The centre back outjumped Ben Chilwell to head home but the VAR spotted Wataru Endo was offside and deemed, somewhat harshly, to be interfering by blocking a Chelsea defender when Andy Robertson’s free kick was crossed into the box.

Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, who spurned a number of other chances, had the opportunity to win it in the 85th but his shot was excellently saved before he then blazed another effort off target.

Harvey Elliott forced a brilliant save from Djordje Petrovic with five minutes of extra time remaining but it did not matter as moments later, van Dijk headed the ball home.

© AAP

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