Van Dijk heads youthful and oh so battered Liverpool to League Cup victory

Virgil van Dijk played a heroic role for Liverpool in the League Cup final against Chelsea. The center-back headed The Reds to victory deep into extra time at Wembley.

Van Dijk heads youthful and oh so battered Liverpool to League Cup victory
Photo Source: Getty Images

The final at Wembley lasted less than half an hour for Gravenberch. The 21-year-old Dutch international was kicked out of the game by Moises Caicedo.

The Chelsea midfielder was late in the challenge with the former Ajax player and hit his opponent hard on the left ankle. It quickly became clear that Gravenberch could not continue after that much-discussed duel, during which not even a foul was called, let alone a yellow or red card being issued. Jürgen Klopp could not understand the actions of the officials and saw Gravenberch being carried off the field on a stretcher.

Another Dutchman came close to opening the score in the first half. Andy Robertson delivered a cross to Cody Gakpo, who started as a striker. The former PSV player got free from Chelsea's center-backs and headed the ball against the post. Liverpool supporters on the other side of the stadium had already counted it. The header was one of only eleven touches the attacker had in the first half. Liverpool's play was not as smooth as desired, which was logical given the list of absentees. Klopp had to do without a total of ten players due to injuries, including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah, Alisson Becker, Dominik Szoboszlai, Darwin Núñez, and Diogo Jota.

Chelsea had lost 4-1 to The Reds at Anfield at the end of January, but on Sunday in the final, they were better able to match up with the battered Liverpool. Just before Gakpo's big chance, Raheem Sterling thought he had opened the score against his former club. However, his goal was disallowed by VAR intervention due to offside by the assistant Nicolas Jackson.

The game was back and forth on the sacred football ground. Early in the second half, Enzo Fernández wasted a big chance for Chelsea with a failed backheel, and a volley from Harvey Elliott was stopped by Djordje Petrovic on the other side. The Serbian goalkeeper had no answer for a header from Van Dijk in the sixtieth minute. The Liverpool captain got the better of Ben Chilwell at a free kick and headed home from Robertson's cross. That goal was also disallowed by VAR for offside against Wataru Endo, who had set a block near Van Dijk when Robertson took the free kick.

Looking at the bench, Klopp felt the impact of the injury crisis. The German faced a tough choice: either to bring on more youngsters or hope that fatigue would not be an issue. Defensively, his team struggled more. Conor Gallagher came close to scoring from a Cole Palmer cross, hitting the post, and on another occasion found Caoimhín Kelleher blocking his path. Substitute Christopher Nkunku also made life difficult for Van Dijk and his fellow defenders with his runs.


No goals were scored in regular time, so the thriller went into extra time. In the extension, Liverpool had to try to make a difference with youngsters like Bobby Clark (21), James McConnell (19), and Jayden Danns (18) on the field. Klopp's team showed character and overcame a phase in which they were under enormous pressure. In the extra time, with Noni Madueke coming on for Chelsea, Liverpool gradually grew stronger. Elliott almost scored with a header at the far post deep into the extra time, but Petrovic made a fine save on the header that was well directed to the ground. Danns was stopped at the last moment in an attempt to score from the rebound.

At the next opportunity, it was truly a goal for Liverpool. Surrounded by all the youngsters, it was Van Dijk who made the difference, helping his team to League Cup victory. The captain and great leader of Liverpool headed the ball into the far corner from a corner by Kostas Tsimikas in the 118th minute. That was the decisive moment. Thus, the Premier League leader has secured its first trophy in the season of Klopp's farewell, thanks to one of the players who has been of immeasurable value to him.