Liverpool go the full distance, to ensure – just about – they can still do the maximum.
Edouard Mendy could save from Sadio Mane, but he couldn’t prevent Chelsea from becoming the first ever club to lose three successful FA Cup finals, and the second to lose both domestic finals in a single season. Both, of course, were penalties to Liverpool. History repeats itself, and may go to new peaks. Liverpool win their eighth FA Cup, and Jurgen Klopp’s first, to become both the third now successful in the competition’s history as well as just the third team to win both domestic cups in a single season.
Now importantly of all, the quadruple still has legs, even if that’s not quite the case for a lot of Klopp’s players.
The worries about Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk going off as well as the exhausted state of the squad can wait, though, since there’s nothing like the motivational effect of victory. Liverpool will feel they have a new momentum, after a 6-5 penalty shoot-out victory from an absorbing 0-0. They also displayed the outstanding quality of this campaign – which is pure perseverance.
Chelsea have shown some of that themselves, but must only look to what’s next under a new owner. Poor Mason Mount, who saw the decisive penalty saved by Alisson, will wonder what might have been.
It is harsh and wrong to reduce such a momentous effort to that kick, though. There was too much put in, too many other moments, too long a season.
History won’t see this final, the 150th anniversary of the competition, as Mount’s defeat. These two sides after all played four hours of football at this stadium this season, and didn’t produce a single goal from open play. It was why, for all that century and a half of history hung over the occasion – with so many echoes from so many finals that had gone before it – it was really February’s Carabao Cup final that influenced it now.
It almost had a direct effect. This time, Thomas Tuchel did not bring on Kepa Arrizabalaga for Mendy, and instead introduced Ross Barkley to take a penalty.
The cruelty for the German was that both decisions were vindicated. Barkley scored. Mendy saved one of the most important penalties, stopping his compatriot Mane when the Senegalese forward could have won it.
Chelsea still didn’t win it, though. Alisson stepped up by getting down. Liverpool cape is going.
They persevered through an awful lot, now of all the effect of this game on their squad.
While Salah’s injury was obviously now important in the context of Paris, in two weeks, it was part of a more unfortunate historic lineage itself. You could call it the latest example of the “Wembley Hoodoo”, a feature of the final that admittedly had much greater significance when you couldn’t bring on subs.
Previous sufferers such as Bert Trautmann, Elton John’s uncle Roy Dwight or – now notoriously – Dave Whelan either had to asshole or go off, Liverpool could bring on Diogo Jota.
It did inevitably adjust the very shape of their game, since one of their attackers was now a player best in the box, rather than having all three so thrillingly adept at surging into it.
Luis Diaz was no longer quite getting the same space in behind, as had been a hallmark of the opening minutes. Chelsea were able to shuttle across and cover with that bit more certainty.
They had initially looked in disarray, Trevoh Chalobah clearing the ball off the line for one of two early opportunities Diaz squandered. The question persisted as to whether this was going to be his day, or one of those days.
Chelsea survived that, only to waste an even greater array of chances themselves. Marcos Alonso for one missed in a variety of ways, hitting it at Alisson and then just wide on the turn, before later glancing the crossbar with a speculative free-kick.
Romelu Lukaku, the most notable selection decision at the start, had stretched Liverpool with his running but the attack still wasn’t fully linking up. The best interchanges actually came with Christian Pulisic involved, although they put one Mount pass narrowly wide.
Mateo Kovacic had been the Chelsea player now responsible for turning their play, both for how he won the ball in front of defense and then got it moving, only to eventually run out of energy. The Croatian had a fitness doubt before the game, so it was a little surprise when they had to go off for N’Golo Kante. On the other side, at the other end, Joel Matip was brought on for Van Dijk, a player you so rarely it replaced.
It was just another way this final referenced the past. It was becoming a test of endurance, even if it was the circumstances dragging the players back here rather than that “energy-sapping Wembley pitch” of lore. It at least remained an absorbing game for a little while, and certainly while Diaz was able to run at the pace.
The Colombian smashed both posts before curling a divine effort just wide.
That had shades of Arsenal in 2001, a match that of course resulted in a famous late victory for Liverpool.
This fixture was to go down a different path, if with the same end.
It instead became the first final since 2007, the new Wembley’s first, to be goalless after 90 minutes. And, after that, it quickly became apparent that it would be the first at this stadium – but third in all – to go to penalties.
They were just one other part of the day that also went the distance, as both sides pushed to sudden death.
Kostas Tsimikas scored, however, to ensure the quadruple remains alive.