Fabinho makes Thiago smile
Liverpool supporters would be forgiven for thinking some things perhaps just aren’t meant to be.
When the teamsheet dropped for this Wembley final, there was an excited sense of anticipation at seeing Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson together in midfield.
Arguably the strongest triumvirate at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal, it has only been spotted five times this season since the aborted debut at Everton back in October 2020.
Liverpool won all five. So the deflation was tangible as word swept around Wembley mere minutes before kick-off that Thiago had suffered an injury during the warm-up and would be replaced by Naby Keita.
The Spaniard was in tears on the bench, consoled by Alisson Becker. Keita, meanwhile, was thrust into a situation he surely hadn’t been anticipating.
It showed at the start, Liverpool knocked out of their stride. But, to their credit, they dug in, first with Jordan Henderson looking to calm the storm, then later Fabinho assuming the responsibility with an outstanding defensive midfield display, his cheeky Panenka penalty in the shoot-out highlighting the confidence with which he was playing come the end of the match.
Thiago, meanwhile, finished the day all smiles as he joined his team-mates in the post-match celebrations. Mind you, his wait for a League Cup appearance continues.
Diaz heads next generation
Among the many sub-plots of a remarkable occasion dripping in narrative was one that underlined what the League Cup has often meant under Jurgen Klopp.
And it was spearheaded by another outstanding performance from the player who already looks a snip at £50million.
Certainly, Trevoh Chalobah won’t forget his first encounter with Luis Diaz in a hurry.
Even during Liverpool’s wobbly opening, Diaz was the brightest attacking light of the visitors, constantly causing danger with his willingness to run at the Chelsea defender in an impressive showing that continued until the exhausted Colombian winger was withdrawn during the first half of extra time.
It would not be unreasonable to indicate that, having made just four starts since his arrival from Porto last month, Diaz is just scratching the surface of his potential at Liverpool.
And, as is the way in this competition, there were further glimpses of the future for Klopp.
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Harvey Elliott, promoted to the bench after Thiago’s injury, became the youngest ever Reds player to appear at Wembley late in the second half and impressed with his composure and use of the ball.
He was also nerveless from the spot, as too was Ibrahima Konate, who had been given the onerous task of keeping Romelu Lukaku at bay during extra time.
Indeed, it was perhaps fitting everyone got to take a spot kick in the shoot-out.
After using 32 different players in the competition, this is a trophy triumph genuinely won by the entire squad.
Anyone for VAR?
There was enough drama and incident during an almighty scrap between two of the last three World champions without you-know-what sticking its oar in.
But the implementation of VAR – and the rules that surround it – simply won’t be denied.
Liverpool will point to the harsh manner in which Joel Matip’s second-half goal was disallowed, Virgil van Dijk adjudged to have come back from an offside position to block Reece James.
Chelsea, meanwhile, will wonder about the veracity of the flag that denied Romelu Lukaku a goal when the slide rule was being brought out at Stockley Park.
The intrusion didn’t add to an occasion that mercifully players on both sides were determined to make memorable regardless.
Having improved a Wembley record that had seen Liverpool win just one of their last seven visits, Klopp became the first German manager and the sixth different Reds boss to win the League Cup.
He now needs only the FA Cup to complete the domestic set, concentration on which will swiftly be focused with the visit of Norwich City on Wednesday.
One down, three to go. The quadruple is still on.