Soccer-Liverpool edge Chelsea to lift League Cup as Van Dijk rises to the occasion


Soccer Football - Carabao Cup - Final - Chelsea v Liverpool - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - February 25, 2024 Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk scores their first goal Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

LONDON (Reuters) -Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk powered home a header in extra time as his side beat Chelsea 1-0 in the League Cup final on Sunday 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, 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 a quadruple still within reach.

The Liverpool manager, who said last month he would 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 youngsters who did not let him down.

"What happened here was absolutely insane, these things are not possible. The team, a squad, an academy full of character. I am so proud I could be part of that tonight," Klopp said.

"The craziest thing is we deserved it. We had lucky moments, they had lucky moments. The boys showed up, it was really cool."

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino's hopes of igniting the season after a difficult start to his reign were dashed, with the Blues becoming the first team ever to lose six successive domestic major finals in English football history, with the last three of those defeats coming against Liverpool.

It was a familiar outcome for the Argentine coach whose time in England has seen him go close on numerous occasions without landing any silverware.

It was the second time Klopp had got the better of him in a major final, after Liverpool beat Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur side in the Champions League in 2019.

Pochettino, tasked with knitting together a squad assembled at huge expense, will be disappointed his side failed to get the better of Liverpool's young outfit even if his team trail the leaders by 25 points in the Premier League and were soundly beaten 4-1 at Anfield in January.

"They (the players) are professional, they need to feel the pain," Pochettino said. "We played for a trophy we didn't get. They need to feel the pain like us."

INJURY PROBLEMS

Sunday's final was a captivating encounter and 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.

Liverpool overcame a lengthy 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 with 19-year-olds James McConnell and Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns, 18, on the pitch - the trio having barely a handful of first team appearances between them.

Liverpool's injury problems were compounded when Ryan Gravenberch was taken off on a stretcher in the first half after Moises Caicedo caught his ankle with a clumsy, mistimed tackle that had Klopp seething on the touchline.

Liverpool were then handed a reprieve by the lineman's flag when Sterling tapped home from Nicolas Jackson's pass, a tight call that VAR took time to confirm.

Cody Gakpo headed against the post from Andy Robertson's cross towards the end of the half and that was as close as Liverpool came until 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 that 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 when he bore down on goal but his shot was excellently saved by Liverpool's stand-in keeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who was superb throughout.

Harvey Elliott forced a brilliant save from Djordje Petrovic with five minutes of extra time remaining as the Liverpool forward headed powerfully towards the bottom corner but his effort was cleared off the line by the keeper.

Yet it did not matter as moments later, Van Dijk headed the ball home to send the Liverpool supporters into raptures.

(Reporting by Toby Davis; additional reporting by Clare Lovell; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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