Liverpool win Carabao Cup as Van Dijk’s extra-time header sinks Chelsea

Virgil van Dijk shows off the trophy after Liverpool’s 1-0 victory (after extra time) over Chelsea Photograph: Tom Jenkins

When Liverpool won the corner towards the very end of extra-time that would prove decisive, Jürgen Klopp applauded and just found himself smiling at the romance of it all. Depleted by a host of injuries and collecting more here, other ­players running on fumes, the manager had introduced a clutch of untested youngsters. But here his team were, fighting until the last breath. It was Liverpool who found the purpose and clarity in the extra period.

Klopp’s scriptwriter had something left, the detail to ignite his quest to collect four more trophies before he rides off into the sunset at the end of the season. The substitute Kostas Tsimikas swung over the kick and there was Virgil van Dijk, ­stealing away from Axel Disasi, to glance home with his head. The Liverpool captain had seen a header ruled out on the hour after a lengthy VAR intervention. There would be no denying him or his team on this occasion.

Klopp’s smile was something now and the celebrations would be ­suitably wild upon the full-time whistle, his punches to the Liverpool supporters heavy on emotion. The photographers got the picture they wanted when Klopp and Van Dijk lifted the trophy together and there was a scene that quickly went viral when Klopp, every Liverpool player and every member of staff draped arms around each other and swayed in one line to the strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

The other half of the stadium had long since emptied. It was Mauricio Pochettino who had the red eyes; he and Chelsea the bitter regrets. The Chelsea manager had watched his team recover from a nervous start and they had the chances to have won it in normal time. After Van Dijk’s ­disallowed header, it was Chelsea who turned the screw.

Conor Gallagher did not deserve to be on the losing team but he was not clinical when he had to be. There would be no triumph to spark the Pochettino era and he is still seeking his first silverware in English ­football. Nor was there a first return on the £1bn transfer spend of the club’s Todd Boehly-fronted ownership. The cold truth was that Chelsea disintegrated in extra-time.

What now for them? Not since the Roman Abramovich takeover have they gone two consecutive seasons without a trophy but that will be their fate if they cannot win the FA Cup. One of the problems for them is that Liverpool are still in it.

It was a gripping occasion when the modern history between the clubs had bubbled – all of those epic Champions League knockout ties in the mid-to-late Noughties and the six previous finals, most of them ­domestic ones. Also when the team news was massive, mainly from a Liverpool point of view.

Virgil van Dijk heads the winner past Djordje Petrovic. Photograph: Nigel French/Getty Images

Klopp had counted 11 absentees, including some big ones – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez. He would lose Ryan Gravenberch midway through the first half of normal time after a bad tackle from Moisés Caicedo; the midfielder would reappear on crutches for the celebrations, his foot in a protective boot. Wataru Endo also departed Wembley on crutches and in a boot, having damaged an ankle.

It was an occasion coloured by the contributions of Liverpool’s academy players. Conor Bradley was fearless from the outset, first at right-back, then in midfield, and Klopp would finish with Bobby Clark and James McConnell in the No 8 positions and Jayden Danns as the No 9. ­Jarell Quansah also came on in central defence.

Chelsea measured the opening 20 minutes in slips, loose touches and passes; desperate fouls, too. Yet they announced they were in the contest when Gallagher crossed low and Cole Palmer was denied by a brilliant ­Caoimhín Kelleher save.

It was entertaining, jammed full of incident. For the first time in this season’s competition, VAR technology was in use and Caicedo was fortunate it did not recommend action after his stamp on Gravenberch. Chelsea were a hair’s breath from taking the lead on the half hour, Nicolas Jackson setting up Raheem Sterling for the tap-in but the centre-forward was seen to have moved just too early on to a Palmer pass.

Liverpool had their chances before the interval in normal time, mainly through the relentless Luis Díaz . He had two early efforts and teed up Bradley in the 45th minute, Levi ­Colwill making a huge block. Moments earlier, Cody Gakpo had risen to guide a header from Andy Robertson’s cross against the post.

Chelsea were profligate. Enzo Fernández ignored the well-placed Palmer on 53 minutes to fluff an attempted backheeled finish and, after the Van Dijk disallowed goal, they really raised the stakes on their wastefulness. Disasi got himself into a muddle when gloriously placed and Gallagher would touch a Palmer cross on to the far post and blow a one-on-one with Kelleher. There were other moments, not least when Palmer and the substitute Christopher Nkunku shot too close to Kelleher.

Liverpool thought they had broken the deadlock when Van Dijk powered home from Robertson’s free-kick. The VAR, though, would spot that Endo had blocked off Colwill from an offside position. Colwill had been a part of the marking detail on Van Dijk.

Liverpool’s resolve in extra-time was extraordinary. Danns, with only a few minutes of first-team ­football before this, almost caught out Djordje Petrovic with a header and the ­Chelsea goalkeeper somehow stopped a Harvey Elliott header in the 115th minute. Penalties looked inevitable. Enter Van Dijk.