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Analysis: Liverpool did all they could to win the League Cup – and ultimately triumphed

Liverpool and Chelsea met at Wembley Stadium with a cup trophy on the line for the third time in two years on Sunday.

This clash was quite different to the last ones, as both clubs were in quite different states.

In 2022, Liverpool were locked in an incredibly tight title race with Manchester City as they are now, but they had a full-strength squad with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho starting.

Not only were they without all those players this time, but they also knew this could be Jürgen Klopp’s last final with them.

By contrast, Chelsea had dropped off dramatically since their two penalty defeats against Liverpool at Wembley.

After a third-place finish in the league in 2021/22, they plummeted to the bottom half of the table in the subsequent season and have stayed there since despite splashing the cash on transfer fees.

Given the level of investment they made in their team and their opponents’ injury crisis, the Blues should have been clear favourites, but that was not the case.

With just two wins in six going into this match, they were out of form. They hadn’t beaten Liverpool in almost four years, with the last meeting ending 4-1 in the Reds’ favour.

They rarely looked in control throughout the final, only managing to threaten in spurts rather than sustaining pressure.

(Image credit: FotMob)

Their biggest weakness in this respect was their failure to control proceedings with the ball. Not only did they end up with the minority share of possession, but they also had relatively poor passing accuracy of just 80%. On the flip side, Liverpool deserve credit for causing problems.

Under Klopp, they have built up a reputation as one of the best pressing sides in the country. However, they have often toned down their intensity in favour of a more measured approach this season.

This is aimed at restricting opponents rather than immediately winning the ball back. In this match, for example, they used a 4-1-4-1/4-1-2-3 pressing structure with the front five in the opposition’s third, but crucially quite centrally compact. The striker was tasked with cutting off passing angles, forcing Chelsea to one side.

Once the ball goes wide, it becomes much easier to disrupt the opposition’s build-up. The touchline effectively blocks off half of the receiving full-back’s passing angles, so all the winger needs to do is cut off the pass to the midfielder to force a long ball down the line.

Liverpool’s wingers were perfectly positioned to do just that, so many of Chelsea’s possession sequences ended this way.

At the same time, Chelsea’s defenders and midfielders must shoulder some blame for their lack of composure under pressure.

Given the calibre of players in the side, they could have tried to take on Liverpool’s press a bit more, but they barely managed to string together any sustained passing sequences and had next to no consistent connections between players.

(Image credit: Between The Posts)

It should be said that there was one benefit to Chelsea’s more direct approach, which was the potential to create high-quality chances.

Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal in the first half was a prime example of that as the move began with a ball down the channel which Nicolas Jackson chased down, but he was millimetres offside.

The Blues created far more in front of goal, both in terms of Expected Goals and big chances, so they were made to pay for their inability to convert.

(Image credit: FotMob)

Caoimhín Kelleher also deserves plenty of credit, as he did his best Alisson impression to shut down a lot of one-on-one opportunities.

Going the other way, Liverpool’s attack was relatively limited by some of the aforementioned absences, but they found a way to pose a noteworthy attacking threat themselves.

Their right wing was severely weakened in particular, so Klopp and his coaching staff did well to devise a system that heavily emphasised play down the left.

(Image credit: Between The Posts)

A set-piece goal won the day in the end, but it was a deserved one as they consistently threatened in such situations. The best aspect of their performance was the responsibility entrusted to and contribution of the youngsters.

After the match, Klopp said this was the most special trophy he has ever won, and it is easy to understand why.

While the League Cup does not come anywhere near the Champions League in terms of prestige, how Liverpool got the job done in Wembley was remarkable.

Four academy graduates with next to no senior experience before this season were on the pitch in extra time, yet Chelsea looked happier to settle for penalties.

Klopp’s emphasis on and appreciation of youth development should go down as one of his biggest legacies at Liverpool, so it is quite fitting that one of his last trophies at the club was won in this manner.

Stats courtesy Transfermarkt and Opta via FotMob.

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