Virgil van Dijk's late winner against Chelsea seals League Cup glory for Liverpool

Dutch skipper grabs decider for Jurgen Klopp's side late in extra time at Wembley

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Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk headed the winner deep into extra time as Jurgen Klopp’s massively depleted side beat Chelsea 1-0 to claim a record-extending 10th Carabao Cup.

The Dutch defender, who controversially had another header ruled out at the same end in the second half after VAR intervention, rose above Mykhailo Mudryk to nod in Kostas Tsimikas’ corner in the 118th minute.

It was no more than the Netherlands international, lifting his first trophy as Liverpool captain, deserved after a monumental performance in defence in a win that seemed against the odds for long periods.

Klopp became the third Liverpool manager to win the trophy more than once as his long goodbye before his departure at the end of the season began with the first of a potential four pieces of silverware.

But for opposite number Mauricio Pochettino his long wait for an English domestic trophy continues.

A Liverpool side already missing 11 first-teamers, including Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szobozslai, who did not pass late fitness tests, lost Ryan Gravenberch inside half-an-hour.

They had six players aged 21 or under on the bench – with Trey Nyoni only 16 – and three of them were on the pitch at the end of regulation time.

By contrast Chelsea’s recent billion-pound spending spree meant Trevoh Chalobah, on the bench, was their only player in the squad remaining from the 2022 final meeting.

The longer the game went on, the more it played into the Blues’ hands with their deeper squad resources and by the end of normal time, Liverpool’s team resembled one more befitting the third round of this competition than the final.

Pochettino had the luxury of bringing on Christopher Nkunku, Mudryk and Noni Madueke, acquired for a combined £171 million.

Had it not been for the heroics of Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher and Conor Gallagher’s lack of composure in front of goal the game would have been over well before it was.

Chelsea were thankful for Chris Kavanagh’s generous interpretation of obstruction ruling out Van Dijk’s goal on the hour.

Liverpool’s captain was imperious and at times in the additional period it seemed he was the only thing holding back the blue tide, although the tireless Wataru Endo more than played his part in front of him.

Considering what they were facing late in the game, Chelsea’s midfield misfired badly while the forward line offered little in the way of a threat.

When Gallagher was not being denied by a post he either found Kelleher recreating his heroics of two years ago against them or was just plain wasteful.

Kelleher had produced a brilliant stop in the 20th minute when Cole Palmer blasted the ball at him from six yards, with Endo denying Nicolas Jackson’s follow-up.

Moises Caicedo’s tackle on Gravenberch on the touchline – which was not even called a foul – saw the Dutchman depart on a stretcher.

That forced a reshuffle, with Joe Gomez coming on at right-back and Conor Bradley moving into the forward line to replace Harvey Elliott, who dropped back into midfield.

That allowed Chelsea to seize the momentum but when former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling turned home Jackson’s low cross the offside flag went up immediately.

Klopp’s side settled down and gained more control over their opponents’ more chaotic approach and Cody Gakpo directed a header against the post and Bradley had a goalbound shot blocked.

After the break Elliott’s volley was palmed away by Djordje Petrovic before Van Dijk powered home a header at the far post from Robertson’s free-kick.

However, VAR asked Kavanagh to go to the monitor to rule on an offside in Endo’s role in blocking Levi Colwill and he decided the centre-back would have had a chance of reaching Van Dijk.

The lack of a cool head continued to plague Chelsea and, after Axel Disasi missed a far-post volley from three yards, Gallagher hit the post with a cute close-range flick before being charged down by Kelleher with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Klopp sent on teenagers James McConnell and Jayden Danns and the latter almost had a dream introduction with his header tipped over.

Elliott’s header was somehow stopped on the line by Petrovic but he was powerless to deny the irresistible force of Van Dijk.

Van Dijk told Sky Sports afterwards: "It's incredible. It's emotion, it's everything. I am so proud of the boys. All of the young boys playing their part in what we achieved today, it's incredible and on to more.

“First trophy as Liverpool captain, it's all for the fans so let's enjoy it. You should always savour the good moments, this is definitely one of them.”

Liverpool manager Klopp said: "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.

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

"I am sure we brought on all the kids! We needed fresh legs, they were fresh but very young, but they did the job."

Chelsea boss Pochettino said: "We need to take positive things, need to push, use this type of game to learn and be better.

"I think we really competed if you don't score with chances we had it's difficult to win the final.

"That is why, we lost final we need to be clinical in front of goal and we congratulate Liverpool and keep going.

"The way you lose is so painful but now we need to keep going keep moving. They scored and we didn't score."

Updated: February 25, 2024, 7:27 PM