Thomas Tuchel made one mistake. He brought on Chelsea’s specialist penalty goalkeeper.
Not only did Kepa Arrizabalaga not save one of Liverpool’s 11 efforts from the spot – the entire team put one past him – he then sent his own spot-kick, the 22nd of the match, into orbit halfway up the Liverpool end.
And so Jurgen Klopp and his players landed the first domestic trophy of the season, after vone of the finest goalless draws it is possible to have witnessed, which Chelsea shaded on good scoring chances, but could not finish.
Mason Mount missed two sitters, Christian Pulisic one and there were four goals disallowed – three for Chelsea, one for Liverpool. Left to their own devices the players then found the net 21 times before Arrizabalaga – who had been introduced with a minute of extra-time remaining, as Chelsea’s expert in the field – skied his effort to gift the spoils to Liverpool.
Tuchel had made the same move in the UEFA Super Cup final at the start of the season, with different results. The irony is that, until his late removal, Edouard Mendy, Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper, had been the best player on the field.
As for Arrizabalaga, it was here at Wembley where he had previously blotted his Chelsea career, refusing to be substituted in this match, when appearing to be injured. And it could well be his final act in a Chelsea shirt, with a move likely in the summer. Signed for a world record fee, it is no way to end his career in London.
Might Chelsea have taken the lead in extra time? It certainly looked so. Lukaku broke away, checked inside, then shot low past Kelleher.
Once the ball was in the next, the flag went up for offside. But was it? Replays seemed to suggest not. Yet referee Stuart Attwell got a signal to say the gods of VAR were satisfied.
The problem with this technology is that, increasingly, it seems to mean whatever the powers want it to mean. Havertz also scored in the second period of injury time, but that was offside in the way we would all define it.
The deadlock remained unbroken at the end of the second-half, too, but the spectacle remained undimmed. High tempo, high action, and chances at either end, Mount spurned another wonderful opportunity for Chelsea. Pulisic put him through and Liverpool’s back line was static, caught out, leaving him with only Kelleher to beat.
He slipped the ball past him only to see it hit the post. On the touchline, Tuchel fell to his knees and beat the ground in despair.
Then it was Liverpool’s turn. Another kicking error by Mendy saw the ball come back, Mane to Salah who was suddenly speeding towards goal.
He went for a delicate chip and somehow Silva sped past two team-mates to clear off the line. Where he derives the energy at his age, who knows?
Finally, a goal. In the 67th minute, Alexander-Arnold delivered a free-kick that was met by Mane at the far post.
He headed the ball down, it bounced up and Joel Matip got in front of Silva to head into an empty net. And then, as is the modern way, we waited. Something had turned up in forensics.
A push? An offside? Both? Stuart Attwell was summoned to the sidelines and, on review the signal beloved of killjoys everywhere. Van Dijk was just offside and while he hadn’t touched the ball had impeded his man, meaning Mane could make his run unchecked. No goal.
Chelsea also had one disallowed for offside but that required less explanation. Timo Werner. Nuff said.
Still there were chances at each end. Luis Diaz went through one on one and Mendy saved at his feet.
Then, a goalmouth scramble and as second double save, first from Diaz, then Robertson. Finally, in the fifth minute of injury time, Alonso got off a cross and Romelu Lukaku – on as a 73rd minute sub – almost scored with a deft flick, kept out by Kelleher’s legs.
If there was a tiny recess in Thomas Tuchel’s mind that was still deliberating his decision to prefer Edouard Mendy to Kepa Arrizabalaga it probably cleared on 30 minutes, when his first choice performed one of the saves of the season.
Naby Keita shot from a good 25 yards out and Mendy parried – that was a decent stop. Yet as the ball rebounded out, Sadio Mane came onto it first and tried to finish at the second attempt from close range. Somehow Mendy diverted it over the bar – and that was a quite brilliant save.
Jurgen Klopp kept faith with the goalkeeper that had got him here, Caolmhin Kelleher, with Alisson on the bench.
Yet Mendy’s instant elevation when Chelsea reached the Club World Cup final – he came directly from competing in the Africa Cup of Nations – suggests Tuchel is neither sentimental or indulgent of feelings.