Somehow, Sunday’s mad, brilliant, and memorable League Cup final went a full 120 minutes without a goal. Chelsea and Liverpool traded chance after chance, while goalkeepers Edouard Mendy and Caoimhin Kelleher sprawled to make 10 unbelievable saves. The linesmen ruled another four would-be goals offside. It was insane. It was still 0-0.
So off to penalties they went, with shootout specialist Kepa Arrizabalaga replacing the otherwise excellent Mendy in the 119th minute, and after a game of agonizing near-misses, each of the first 20 attempts went in. But in heartbreaking fashion, Kepa ended up skying the final kick of a marathon shootout, handing Liverpool an incredible 11-10 win on penalties at Wembley Stadium and their first League Cup in a decade.
The Reds have now won five major trophies since Jurgen Klopp’s appointment in 2015. The only English title missing from the German’s collection is the FA Cup.
Liverpool last lifted the League Cup in 2011-12 when Martin Skrtel and Dirk Kuyt scored in a 2-2 draw with Cardiff City that was also decided on penalties.
The highest-scoring shootout between top-flight English sides capped a topsy-turvy final that produced spectacular saves on both ends and a host of spoiled opportunities.
Mendy set the tone in the 30th minute with a pair of saves in quick succession on Naby Keita and Sadio Mane. Chelsea’s No. 1 dove to his right to keep out Keita’s long-range effort before scrambling to deny Mane on the follow-up.
Just before halftime, Chelsea’s Mason Mount missed the first of two golden chances, volleying just wide from point-blank range. In the 49th minute, Mount misfired again, hitting the post after Christian Pulisic’s ball found the English international all alone in the 18-yard box.
Chelsea felt especially aggrieved after Keita escaped a red card for a studs-up challenge into the thigh of defender Nathaniel Chalobah in the 60th minute.
Liverpool surged in the second half and nearly capitalized on Mendy’s misplaced clearance when Mohamed Salah attempted to dink the Senegalese shot-stopper on the run. However, Chelsea defender Thiago Silva was there to sweep up before the ball crossed the goal line.
Then, Liverpool defender Joel Matip headed in what he thought was the long-awaited opener in the 67th minute, only for the video assistant referee to rule that teammate Virgil van Dijk had interfered with play in an offside position during the preceding free-kick.
The match again turned in Chelsea’s favor, but this time Kai Havertz felt the wrath of the linesman, with substitute Romelu Lukaku deemed offside before the German’s header found the back of the net.
In extra time, Lukaku – who’s come under fierce criticism for a lack of involvement in recent fixtures – thought he’d atoned for previous performances with a goal, but the offside flag denied him again. And in the 110th minute, Havertz shot cleanly into the far bottom corner, sending Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel into a frenzy. The linesman ended those celebrations prematurely with another wave of the flag.
Tuchel and his players wouldn’t have another chance to celebrate. With the penalty shootout coming down to goalkeepers, Kelleher, who started every game of Liverpool’s League Cup campaign, converted from 12 yards before watching counterpart Kepa balloon his attempt.
Kelleher has now won three shootouts in just 17 senior appearances – more than any keeper in club history.