Siao Mates Feb 28

It’s time for “happy ending” massages at Liverpool


 

It might be known to many as a “Mickey Mouse Cup” because of how it pales in comparison to the FA Cup and the league title, but there was nothing comical about this morning’s (SGT) Carabao Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea.

 

In fact, it was a spirited display of football that could go down in history as one of the most dramatic cup finals in England.

 

WATCH: Klopp delighted with Carabao Cup win

 

Liverpool, which went into this final on a red-hot streak of nine wins across all competitions, looked the unstoppable force. Case in point: the Reds were stepping onto the hallowed turf at Wembley on the back of a 6-0 mauling of Leeds.

 

Chelsea, on the other hand, proved to be the immovable object. The Londoners currently have the second-best defensive record in the league, conceding just 18 goals this season – one behind Manchester City – and they certainly backed up this statistic with a flawless display of defensive nous.

 

Antonio Rüdiger kept Mo Salah in his pocket throughout the match. Trevoh Chalobah, whom Liverpool saw as Chelsea’s weakest link, put up a phenomenal display against the effervescent Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane. 

 

What happens when you pit two such forces against one another? 

 

A hundred and twenty minutes of football and 21 penalties.

 

Yes, 21 penalties.

 

Chelsea’s substitute goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was brought specially for the penalty shootout, was the last player to take the penalty. It looked more like a goal kick then a shot on goal.

 

WATCH: Thomas Tuchel says Kepa not to blame for Carabao Cup loss

 

It was a cruel way to end the match. But Chelsea can take comfort in knowing they were the better side. Liverpool’s insistence on playing a high line should have orchestrated their downfall as the Blues were far more incisive in their counterattacks and through passes. Indeed, Chelsea scored thrice, but each attempt was ruled offside. 

 

Liverpool are on course for the quadruple. The Reds are six points behind league leaders Man City and have a game in hand. They next face Norwich in the FA Cup and have the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 against Inter Milan on March 9. 

 

The question now isn’t whether Liverpool has the mettle to win more trophies. Jurgen Klopp’s side has time and again proved themselves to be mentality monsters. This Carabao Cup display highlighted that too.

 

The question now is whether its key players would be able to avoid burnout. 

 

Liverpool’s physios would have their work cut out for them in March, which could very well decide what else Liverpool can win this season – the next four matches the Reds play are just THREE days apart from one another. 

 

There will need to be significant squad rotation to rest battered bodies. Salah, Fabinho, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold played the full 120 minutes at Wembley. Can their bodies hold up to the unforgiving run of fixtures that is to come?

 

Liverpool have ridiculous firepower up front. You can’t say the same for the depth of quality in midfield. Thiago Alcantara, who was supposed to start in the final, injured himself during the warm-up and was replaced with Naby Keita who put in a tireless but somewhat ineffectual shift.

 

It is unclear how long the Spaniard will be out of action and his presence will definitely be missed in upcoming matches against teams that defend well. Liverpool struggled to open up the Chelsea defence most of the game. Some would agree with Thiago’s range of passing would’ve resulted in a different story altogether.

 

Expect the prodigious Harvey Elliott to play a big part in the creative department for the rest of the season. 

 

WATCH: A look at Liverpool's latest homegrown defensive stars

 

Even if Liverpool go on to win their league matches in March, tricky fixtures against Man City on Apr 10 and Tottenham on May 7 still await.

 

Just like the Carabao Cup final, this title race might go right down to the wire, but only if Klopp gets his squad rotation right for the next four matches. 

 

I reckon the players are going to need plenty of massages too if they’re looking for a happy ending to the 2021/2022 season.

 

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