Kepa Arrizabalaga was the Chelsea goalkeeper who refused to come off in a League Cup final. He could not wait to come on to face Liverpool in the same showpiece at Wembley two years later, but now probably wishes he had stayed in his seat.
Kepa notoriously blanked manager Maurizio Sarri during the 2019 Wembley meeting with Manchester City as Chelsea eventually lost on penalties. The outcome was the same this time as Liverpool prevailed but his role and circumstances were markedly different.
Here, rather than cock a deaf ear to the instructions of an enraged manager who thought he was carrying an injury, Kepa was sent on to replace the brilliant Edouard Mendy in the closing moments of extra time in a classic goalless EFL Cup final.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel banked on Kepa’s reputation as a penalty specialist but was not rewarded as he failed to save any of Liverpool’s 11 penalties, then sent the decisive spot-kick in the general direction of the North Circular to give Liverpool the trophy for a record ninth time, in their first Wembley final success for a decade.
Kepa was simply one component of a magnificent occasion that produced one of the finest goalless draws anyone will see, full of incident, brilliant saves, disallowed goals and chances, with two high-class teams only separated by penalties after 21 successful attempts.
It was clear from the opening moments that this was a game that would be settled on fine margins or a pivotal decision.
Chelsea had three goals disallowed, one from Romelu Lukaku by an offside dealing in millimetres, while Mason Mount was guilty of two big misses.
Christian Pulisic was denied an early goal by Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who justified manager Jurgen Klopp’s decision to select him ahead of usual first-choice Alisson with an assured display and a successful final penalty.
Tuchel’s side probably just edged Liverpool on clear chances. Their big problem was they missed them and paid the price when it came to penalties.
After Mount’s second key miss, placed against the post with only Kelleher to beat and no-one near him, Tuchel fell to the ground and beat the turf several times in frustration.
Liverpool answered back as two outstanding teams traded chances, Chelsea keeper Mendy twice saving brilliantly within seconds in the first half from Naby Keita and miraculously from Senegal team-mate Sadio Mane.
It was end-to-end from first to last, the outcome uncertain all the way for 120 minutes, the tension stretching out into a display of penalty expertise from both sides that went right down to the two keepers.
For Liverpool, it provided Klopp’s first domestic cup and successfully sealed part one of what is shaping up as a four-pronged attack on silverware this season.
The manner in which they finally got over the line was a tribute to their own quality and resilience as well as Chelsea’s own performance.
There was simply nothing between the two sides but this was no stand-off stalemate, a wait for the first mistake. Chelsea and Liverpool went out to win from the first whistle.
There was no let-up in the energy, quality, commitment and desire from two teams who rightly take their place among the elite in domestic and European football.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the paths of Chelsea and Liverpool will cross again in cup competition before the season is out as they both continue to contest the FA Cup and Champions League.
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Kepa Arrizabalaga is the world’s most expensive goalkeeper after signing for Chelsea for £71m in 2018
Tuchel was decisive in his move to send on Kepa. It did not work out but there was a method in what he did given the keeper’s previous successes.
It is easy to be wise after the event and criticise the manager but he showed the courage of his convictions.
It was clearly premeditated when it went to penalties but it must have been tough for Tuchel given the sheer brilliance of Mendy’s performance before his substitution.
Tuchel made the same move in the Uefa Super Cup final against Villarreal in Belfast in August with successful results, Chelsea winning a penalty shoot-out 6-5, but here Kepa could barely get near the 11 successful Liverpool efforts.
Liverpool’s drive for more trophies will be turbocharged with the League Cup in the cabinet.
It is a stretch to suggest this trophy is high on their list of priorities when the season starts (indeed it has been pretty low in recent years) but successes breeds confidence. Now they will believe even more that they can make this a historic season.
Liverpool were without the injured Roberto Firmino while Diogo Jota was only fit enough for a place on the bench after a recent injury.
It gave an opportunity for January signing Luis Diaz to start and show once more what he will bring to Anfield.
The Colombian is pacy, direct and full of tricks. He has settled instantly at Liverpool and already looks a potent addition to a fearsome list of forwards led by Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
Klopp’s own big goalkeeping decision was an unqualified success. Kelleher was faultless in every respect, simply continuing his excellent form when called upon – the manager had no doubts about playing Kelleher and he was proved right.
Liverpool have one trophy. They are still in contention for a quadruple that has never been achieved.
It remains odds against but it is a target Klopp and his players will aim for, fuelled by the heady feeling of Wembley success.
This glorious EFL Cup final proved Chelsea will be in contention for other trophies alongside them – but Liverpool struck the first blow after a Wembley extravaganza of entertainment.