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Van Dijk leads Liverpool kids to League Cup glory

Liverpool made history at Wembley Stadium on Sunday by securing a 1-0 extra-time win against Chelsea in a dramatic League Cup final to lift a landmark 10th title.

Jurgen Klopp’s swansong season at Anfield received a first reward as the Reds came out on top of an enthralling contest at the most iconic venue in England.

Despite lacking several first-team stars, including Mohamed Salah, Dominik Szoboszlai, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez, the Merseyside outfit went toe-to-toe with full-strength Chelsea.

Following a relatively slow start to the game, goalscoring chances began to fly on both ends of the field, with Mauricio Pochettino’s side making the first threat through Cole Palmer.

After some intricate build-up, Chelsea swamped the Liverpool box. An awkward rebound fell nicely for the former Manchester City ace, but Caoimhin Kelleher made a superb save to thwart him from point-blank.

Without their talismanic forwards, Liverpool failed to reply as the Blues created another presentable opportunity 12 minutes after Palmer’s miss.

Raheem Sterling pounced on Nicolas Jackson’s teasing low cross on the back post and slotted the ball into an empty net, only to see the linesman’s flag up.

After reviewing the situation with VAR, referee Chris Kavanagh upheld the initial call, finding the Senegal international’s knee a fraction offside.

Shortly after Chelsea’s disallowed goal, the Reds came knocking on Djordje Petrovic’s door through Cody Gakpo. The Dutch star headed Andy Robertson’s inch-perfect cross goalwards but hit the post.

It was the last chance of the first half, yet served as insight into what was coming.

Chelsea flew out of the traps at the start of the second half, with Conor Gallagher setting Enzo Fernandez on a platter. However, the Argentine placed his shot a whisker wide of the right post.

Six minutes later, Liverpool tried to respond as Harvey Elliott put Petrovic to a stern test with a delightful curler. The Serbian goalkeeper was up to the task, denying his shot with a stunning diving save.

Petrovic was helpless on the hour mark when Virgil Van Dijk outjumped his marker and powered a thumping header past the Chelsea stopper to break the deadlock.

VAR’s intervention cut the Reds’ celebrations short due to another margin offside call, leaving the tie open for the taking going into the final 30 minutes.

Gallagher thought he won it for Chelsea in the 76th minute. He received a precise ball inside the box and unleashed a near-perfect low shot that rattled off the far post.

The Blues’ box-to-box midfielder had another top chance to grab a late winner, latching onto Jackson’s cut-back on the edge of the box but skying his effort well over the crossbar.

As the game entered second-half stoppages, it looked like Liverpool would take it into extra time, and they survived injury-time drama thanks to Kelleher.

Christopher Nkunku quickly got on the end of a loose ball just outside the six-yard box. However, his first-time shot proved no issue for Klopp’s second-string keeper.

Strapped for reliable first-team options, the German manager had to rely on inexperienced teenagers to navigate a nail-biting extra time.

It didn’t stop Liverpool from claiming the title, and it had to be Van Dijk who handed his manager another piece of silverware.

The Dutch centre-back was the highest in the air, connecting his towering header with Kostas Tsimikas’ corner-kick delivery on the near post to give the Reds a 118th-minute winner.

And while the Merseyside faithful erupted into wild celebrations, Chelsea fans looked in disbelief as the Blues spurned their best chance to salvage another disastrous campaign.

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