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THE experienced head of Virgil van Dijk guided Liverpool’s kids to Carabao Cup glory as Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour gathered its first piece of silverware.

The Dutch headed home an 118th-minute winner from a corner – after having an earlier effort controversially disallowed by VAR as the Reds condemned Chelsea to a sixth consecutive Wembley cup final defeat.

The Reds captain was man of the match in an  had sent three teenage subs into the fray but still saw his injury-ravaged side defeat Chelsea’s billionaires as they completed the first leg of a potential quadruple.

In a chaotic, VAR-infested final, Raheem Sterling had a first-half effort ruled out by a linesman’s flag.

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But as Klopp’s Liverpool reign comes towards a silvery conclusion, Chelsea’s new era is no nearer to getting off the ground.

Mauricio Pochettino, still yet to win a trophy in English football, was embarrassed by his side suffering defeat against such patched-up, youthful opposition.,

With Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai all failing to be passed fit, the Liverpool team-sheet ought to have been heartening for Pochettino and his players.

The atmosphere on Wembley Way had been underwhelming as supporters of two elite clubs all too used to playing finals here mingled quietly.

This is not the grudge match it was in the Mourinho-Benitez era, although both fanbases exchanged songs about Steven Gerrard, who once handed in a transfer request, hoping to leave Liverpool for Chelsea.

Chelsea had lost two of those previous five finals in penalty shoot-outs against the Reds after goalless draws in 2022 – and this was heading towards a similar conclusion until Van Dijk’s late strike.

For Liverpool fans it was an opportunity to boo God Save The King at Wembley for the first time, having drowned out God Save The Queen umpteen times in the past.

But the Blues made a fretful start, Levi Colwill looking particularly jittery at the heart of the defence and their keeper Djordje Petrovic was soon forced into a decent save from a powerful Luis Diaz shot.

Still, once they woke up, Chelsea came close on 21 minutes – Sterling was offered a clear sight of goal but was blocked off by Conor Bradley, only for Cole Palmer’s close-range effort to be brilliantly saved by Caoimhin Kelleher.

Then it was time for VAR to do its usual thing – getting everything wrong.

Moises Caicedo was guilty of a horrible late challenge on Ryan Gravenberch, which left him writhing on the touchline but ref Chris Kavanagh, consistently one of the Premier League’s worst officials, missed it and his VAR John Brooks did not think it worthy of a straight red card.

Gravenberch was withdrawn, replaced by Joe Gomez, forcing Bradley to move into midfield in a major reshuffle from Klopp.

It was a heated affair at Wembley as the two teams tussled for supremacy.

That mistake was evened up by a dodgy offside call which ruled out a Raheem Sterling goal.

Palmer’s through-ball fed Jackson, who squared for Sterling to find the net.

But Jackson was flagged offside and despite the Chelsea striker looking to be onside, Brooks again refused to get involved.

Liverpool twice went close themselves – Cody Gakpo crashing a header against the post, then Bradley having a shot blocked after more menacing work for Diaz.

Raheem Sterling gave Chelsea the lead but his effort was ruled out for offside.

It was entertaining in a scruffy, scrappy, fractious way and before half-time, Ben Chilwell and Bradley were booked for a shoving match after a tangle on the touchline.

After the break, Diaz was cheerleading the Liverpool fans after forcing a corner and Harvey Elliott had an acrobatic effort pushed out by Petrovic.

Enzo Fernandez fell over his own feet when presented with a decent chance by Conor Gallagher.

And then it was back to Stockley Park.

Having failed to intervene twice in the first half, Brooks woke up to disallow what appeared for all the world to be a bona fide Liverpool goal.

Andy Robertson swung in a free-kick from the left and Van Dijk scored with a towering header only for the effort to be disallowed by the forensics department spotting a block by an offside Wataru Endo on Colwill.

Chelsea’s fans celebrated wildly. When you dream of Wembley cup finals as a kid, that’s precisely the kind of moment you have in mind.

In a wild, open match, higher on tempo than quality, Brooks’ intervention felt particularly weird.

It was error-riddled and end-to-end – Axel Disasi missed from two yards when the ball deflected off his knee, then Cody Gakpo spooned one over for Liverpool and Gallagher clipped a shot against the post from a Palmer centre.

Gallagher was piling up the missed chances – first dithering and allowing Kelleher to smother his shot and then firing wide after Nicolas Jackson’s run had been halted by Ibrahima Konate.

Klopp sent on three teenagers – Bobby Clark, Jayden Danns and James McConnell.

And with two such inexperienced sides going hell-for-leather it was playground football stuff – exemplified by a mad scramble in the Liverpool area in injury-time which ended with Kelleher denying Christopher Nkunku.

Extra-time was largely uneventful until Harvey Elliott’s close-range header was thwarted by Petrovic sticking out a leg.

Then Liverpool forced a corner, Tsimikas delivered it to the near post and Van Dijk shook off Disasi and snuck in front of Mykhailo Mudryk to head inside the far post.

 

 

 

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