Missed chances, VAR drama and Kepa's howler – the EFL Cup final proves a classic

By Sports Desk February 27, 2022

The third major final meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool proved to be a classic.

It was the Reds who triumphed at Wembley, where the crowd were treated to a tale of bad misses and, ultimately, a tale of two goalkeepers.

Caoimhin Kelleher, Liverpool's 23-year-old number two, was their hero, scoring what turned out to be the shoot-out winner as Kepa Arrizabalaga, brought on at the end of extra time by Thomas Tuchel specifically for penalties, blazed his effort high over the bar.

Kepa had proved Chelsea's hero in the Super Cup in August when he replaced Edouard Mendy for that shoot-out, yet history did not repeat itself. Nothing on Sunday went to plan for the Spain international, who had seemed all set to start, given he has been the Blues' regular cup keeper this season.

His strike may well not have been on target if two goals had been stacked on top of each other, and it meant Jurgen Klopp's side won 11-10 on penalties.

It was the highest-scoring penalty shoot-out between two English top-flight teams in history, and brought up a record ninth EFL Cup title for Liverpool, who have collected a fourth major trophy under Klopp, though their first domestic cup of his tenure.

Yet it could all have been very different. Kepa wouldn't have needed to be the butt of all jokes had his team-mates finished some glorious chances, while Liverpool passed up a fair share of their own in what was one of the most thrilling 0-0 draws you are likely to see.

Here are the biggest moments from a memorable showdown...

Pulisic, 6 (xG 0.52)

The first huge moment came within six minutes. Kai Havertz, who would go on to have a superb game, exploited space in midfield and slid a pass out to Cesar Azpilicueta. His low cross found Christian Pulisic in space but the forward clipped a first-time effort straight at Kelleher.

Mane, 30 (xG 0.58)

Having headed wide from an earlier, albeit more difficult, opportunity, Sadio Mane was left bewildered not to be celebrating a goal when Mendy justified Tuchel's selection, making a wonderful save to deny his compatriot from point-blank range.

Mount, 45 (xG 0.6)

Chelsea bookended the first half with another remarkable miss. This time it was Mason Mount who got on the end of Kai Havertz's centre, yet he volleyed wide when it seemed easier to score. Indeed, based on Opta's xG model, this was the best opportunity of a game packed full of golden chances.

Mount, 49 (xG 0.33)

While the xG for this opportunity would suggest Mount only had a 33 per cent chance of scoring, he really should have done better. Put through by a delicately lofted throughball, the England international set himself before sliding a low effort to Kelleher's right, only for the ball to clip away agonisingly off the foot of the post. 

 

Salah, 64 (xG 0.58)

Mendy was almost the master of Chelsea's downfall when he thumped an overhit pass straight out into midfield. Salah capitalised and raced through, lobbing the onrushing goalkeeper, yet there was not enough power on the chip, which may well have been heading wide anyway, and it was cleared.

Matip disallowed goal, 67-69 (xG n/a)

The deadlock seemed to have been broken when Joel Matip headed in from Mane's nod back across goal, only for the VAR to disallow Liverpool's goal due to Virgil van Dijk, who appeared to block Reece James, having been offside in the build-up.

Havertz disallowed goal, 78 (xG n/a)

Chelsea got a taste of the VAR medicine as Havertz's celebrations were cut short after he headed in from Timo Werner's cross, with the creator having strayed offside.

Van Dijk, 90+1 (xG 0.04)

Andrew Robertson and Luis Diaz went close in a scramble, but it was Van Dijk who almost won it for Liverpool in normal time. It was a brilliant header from the towering defender, but Mendy got down low to his left to parry it away.

Lukaku, 90+5 (xG 0.19)

Chelsea had a big moment of their own in stoppage time, but Kelleher – the youngest goalkeeper to start in an EFL Cup final since 2011 – reacted sharply to keep out Lukaku's clever flick at the front post.

 

Lukaku disallowed goal, 98 (xG n/a)

Lukaku showed flashes of his Inter form as he raced through, isolated a defender and slotted home at the near post early in extra time, only for the offside flag to go up again. The VAR checked the decision, but by the finest of margins the forward was indeed offside.

Havertz disallowed goal, 109 (xG n/a)

Havertz finished superbly across Kelleher in the second half of extra time, yet the Germany international was also stood in an offside position when he received Lukaku's pass.

Kepa's howler, penalties

In remarkable scenes, the shoot-out went all the way to 22 kicks, and it was the goalkeepers who had to step up. But having been brought on to save spot-kicks, Kepa did not seem ready to take one, and he lashed his effort way, way over the crossbar, sealing a Liverpool win in a classic final that, somehow, finished 0-0.

Related items

  • Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker? Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker?

    Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.

    Undoubtedly, though, one of his most celebrated strikes came 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.

    On a winter evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth rocked up in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.

    Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top tier, was the difference. 

    Having put Manchester United ahead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, just under 30 yards out from goal, three minutes later.

    His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and swerved remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.

    That goal is often thought of as the typical Ronaldo free-kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.

    But is Ronaldo actually as good as a free-kick taker as that goal might suggest? Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look.

    Quantity, not quality?

    Since that goal against Portsmouth up until the day his second spell at United ended (November 23, 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That is from 700 club games, across stints at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

    On the face of it, that goal tally does not stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo netted 619 times in total.

    Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with the Barcelona great scoring on 51 occasions from such situations.

    That gives Messi an 8.1 per cent conversion rate from free-kicks in that timeframe, in contrast to Ronaldo's 6.3 per cent.

     

    Naturally, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always pull rank when it comes to set-pieces, especially at a free-kick in a dangerous position.

    Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a club-mate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).

    Neymar's 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him an 8.8 per cent success rate, while James Ward-Prowse's 12 per cent (15 from 125, though this figure of course does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) is close to double what Ronaldo managed.

    Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe's big five leagues that scored 10 or more direct free-kicks between January 31, 2008 and November 23, 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.

    Club by club

    So, having established that Ronaldo's free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic following that stunner against Portsmouth, let's check on how he stacked up at each club.

    Across his career in Europe's top five leagues, Ronaldo netted 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).

     

    Thirteen of those goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons of his first spell at the club.

    Indeed, Ronaldo's peak when it came to free-kicks was definitely between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of dead-ball situation.

    His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first at Madrid.

    From 2014-15 onwards he did not manage more than three free-kick goals during a season, while he scored only twice from 86 such attempts while at Juve, and managed no goals from four free-kicks in his second stint at United.

    One of the greats?

    As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has many other memorable free-kicks in the bank.

    His stunning, 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerising hit from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that spellbinding, hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.

    Ronaldo might have gone off the boil from dead balls since the halcyon days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, yet there's no doubting that when he hits them true, there's not much any goalkeeper can do.

    While he may not go down as one of the greatest free-kick takers in history statistically, he has definitely been a scorer of some great free-kicks down the years.

    And who knows, maybe there'll be more to come in Saudi Arabia.

  • Antetokounmpo not taking anything for granted after sixth career 50-point game Antetokounmpo not taking anything for granted after sixth career 50-point game

    Giannis Antetokounmpo was determined to reach 50 points as he piled on 12 in the last four minutes of the Milwaukee Bucks' 135-110 home win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

    It was the sixth 50-point performance of Antetokounmpo's career, and after coming into the season with four, he has managed two this month following his career-high 55 against the Washington Wizards on January 3.

    He shot a blistering 20-of-26 from the field – including 16 of Milwaukee's first 21 points – adding 13 rebounds and four assists, and while he could have settled for a strong effort and a comfortable win, he decided to make it a memorable night down the stretch.

    Sitting on 38 points with 3:51 remaining, Antetokounmpo hit four free throws and a layup to reach 44, before closing the game with back-to-back three-pointers to bring up his 50.

    Speaking after the victory, the two-time MVP and 2021 NBA Finals MVP said these are opportunities you do not want to waste.

    "I knew that if I was able to get the rebound, I was going to shoot," he said. "It doesn't always work out, but tonight it did. 

    "I didn't hesitate at all. I was able to get my legs under my shot, stayed there, and just watched the ball go in.

    "It's one of those moments you can never take for granted because you never know when you're going to have those moments again."

    Antetokounmpo's team-mates decided to bring the locker-room celebration out to the court, showering their franchise player with bottles of water in front of the sold-out Fiserv Forum.

    "We might as well do it in front of everybody," Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. "It's really just to show how much we appreciate him. For him to go out there and do that is amazing, no matter how many times you score 50 points.

    "It's a great time – everybody just kind of gets on his shoulders and we're just along for the ride. At that point, we just got to support him. If he passes it to us, make the shot, but for the most part, we know who's going to carry us."

    Head coach Mike Budenholzer joined Holiday in awe of his star player, highlighting all the hard work he puts in.

    "Tonight, I think 50 on 26 shots is impressive," he said. "Just everything he did, his aggressiveness, a couple threes, especially late, but he's shooting it well. 

    "It feels like a few more catch and shoots – if we can generate a few of those for him and build the confidence in that area, those are areas where he's improving."

    The Bucks improved their record to 33-17, leaving them third in the Eastern Conference and with the fourth-best record overall, while the Pelicans slipped to 26-25 after their eighth consecutive loss as they battle a number of key injuries.

  • Arnold to coach Australia through to 2026 World Cup Arnold to coach Australia through to 2026 World Cup

    Graham Arnold will stay on as Australia head coach heading into the 2026 World Cup.

    The Socceroos reached the round of 16 in Qatar last year, matching the achievement of 2006.

    After losing to eventual finalists France in their opening group game, Australia beat Tunisia and Denmark to record their best performance at a World Cup finals. They lost 2-1 to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in a tight last-16 tie.

    Arnold, who was caretaker manager of the national team between 2006 and 2007 and also took charge of Australia's Olympic side at the delayed Tokyo 2020 tournament, has now signed a new contract to keep him in place through to the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    Football Australia chair Chris Nikou said: "What Graham and the entire squad achieved under the most challenging of circumstances during the last FIFA World Cup campaign was exceptional, and we are delighted that we have secured his services for a further four years.

    "Football Australia is ambitious, where we expect continued progress and results from our senior and youth national teams, and through our discussions with Graham over recent weeks, we know our thinking is aligned on the future direction of Australian football and the Socceroos."

    James Johnson, Football Australia's chief executive, noted Arnold had "contributed to some of Australian football's most iconic moments", but that "his exploits as the Socceroos head coach have propelled him into a league of his own."

    Arnold said: "I love Australia and I love Australian football, and nothing in football can ever match the elation, pride and sense of achievement I and the entire set-up felt in Qatar. 

    "The hunger to continue in the role has never been stronger and I know I have more to give to the Socceroos' programme and Australian football, where I want to deliver more smiles for our fans as we did in Qatar.

    "I approach the next four years with a clean sheet, which is underpinned by a burning ambition to provide more opportunities to our leading emerging and established talent, whilst challenging for major titles starting with the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar next year."

    Arnold explained he hopes Australia's performance at the World Cup convinces the country's government to allocate more funding to the sport and establish a permanent base for the Socceroos. 

    "It's crazy to think the Socceroos don’t get any high-performance funding from the government," he told reporters.

    "They don't have a home. How can you have a football culture if you don't have a home?

    "Funding will help the programmes but the home of football is crucial. It's something as a sport we’ve missed out on. We've got nothing, nowhere to go."

    Arnold has won 30 of his 51 games in charge of Australia, with his 59 per cent win rate the highest of any of the 12 coaches to have overseen the Socceroos on more than 20 occasions.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.