Ben Gray: Carabao Cup Final defeat is the latest in a long line of failures since Todd Boehly’s Chelsea takeover

On Sunday, Liverpool beat Chelsea 1-0 in the EFL Cup Final at Wembley, hoisting aloft the trophy for a record-extending 10th time.

Virgil van Dijk, who himself had seen an opener on the hour mark disallowed by VAR, would still prove to be the hero, heading home Kostas Tsimikas’ corner with little over 90 seconds of extra time remaining.

This is the latest winning goal in a League Cup Final since Brian Little snatch victory for Aston Villa in 1977.

In what is Jurgen Klopp’s final season, the Reds are hoping this proves to be the first of four trophies they pick up along his farewell tour, with the FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Premier League all still on the table.

However, the more interesting angle is that of Chelsea’s disappointment, squandering a golden chance to pick up silverware.

After the winning goal went in, Gary Neville, commentating for Sky Sports, exclaimed that it was a victory for ‘Klopp’s kids’ over the ‘blue billion-pound bottle jobs’.

While this might be a tad on the hyperbolic side, it’s a line that’s likely to be immortalised forever in relation to this Chelsea project that is continuing to spectacularly fail.

So why the overreaction?

After all, this result should be no surprise given that Liverpool are top of the Premier League, 25 points better off than Chelsea, who slipped down to 11th, after Wolves beat Sheffield United earlier on Sunday.

Well, it’s mainly because Liverpool were missing an entire starting XI of first-team players, some of whom are their very best, due to injury.

Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Stefan Bajcetic, Thiago Alcantara, Dominik Szoboszlai, Curtis Jones, Ben Doak, Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez all did not feature, while Ryan Gravenberch was then stretchered off in the first half following an unpunished horror tackle by Moises Caicedo.

So, rather than sticking with the experienced but exhausted players he had out there, Jurgen Klopp was bold and entrusted youth and bringing on three teenagers, the majority watching this showpiece occasion would never have heard of.

Bobby Clark was the first to be introduced, making just his ninth senior appearances, joined soon after by both James McConnell, making only his seventh, and Jayden Danns, who’d only made his debut in a one minute cameo against Luton on Wednesday.

This is the first time 3+ teenagers have featured for the same side in a League Cup Final for 17 years, since Cesc Fabregas, Denilson, Armand Traoré and Theo Walcott all started for Arsenal in 2007.

Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher and right-back Conor Bradley played the full 120 minutes, while Jarell Quansah was also brought on at half time of extra time, meaning the average age of the team that finished the game was just 24, with van Dijk and Wataru Endō really skewing this data.

Of course, as Mauricio Pochettino was quick to point out post-match, he has a young team too, but it’s not the same is it?

Given that we did so for their opposition, it’s worth listing the players Chelsea currently have out injured:

Thiago Silva, Benoit Badiashile, Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, Carney Chukwuemeka, Lesley Ugochukwu and Romeo Lavia, while Cesare Casadei was cup-tied; he would’ve made all the difference!

However, this somehow feels less pertinent when you have 32 players in your first-team squad, as well as a further 20 out on loan, having spent £982 million in three transfer windows since Clearlake Capital’s takeover.

For fans of net-spend, that comes in at a miserly £670 million, eased slightly by last summer’s fire-sale.

Levi Colwill, Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher (academy) as well as Ben Chilwell (signed 2020) were the only player to feature at Wembley not bought during the Todd Boehly-era.

The three attacking substitutes Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke and Christopher Nkunku cost £170 million to assemble, not to mention the starting midfield duo of Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez, both purchased for over £100 million each.

Chelsea ended the 90 minutes completely on top, extremely unlucky not to win at at the death when the ball pin-balled around the Liverpool six-yard box, with neither Nkunku nor Cole Palmer able to prod home.

Once extra time began however, the Blues retreated and froze, showing no ambition to try and win the tie there and then, with Pochettino admitting “the team started to feel that maybe the penalties will be good for us”.

Given all the teenagers Liverpool had brought on, all the onus and pressure was on Chelsea to win, but they completely crumbled under the weight of this expectation.

So what is there for Chelsea to play for this season?

Well, as alluded too earlier, the Blues now find themselves back in the bottom half, closer to third-bottom Luton (15 points) than fourth-placed Aston Villa (17 points).

Assuming the Premier League is awarded a fifth Champions League spot, there is a 82% chance of this happening according to Opta, eighth will be the final European place, with the team finishing there entering the UEFA Conference League play-off round.

Chelsea are just three points below Wolves in eighth, but surely need to set their sights higher than that.

Of course, they are still involved in the FA Cup, hosting Championship high-fliers Leeds on Wednesday, making that competition a priority as it would not only secure silverware, but Europa League qualification too.

Getting into Europe may cause further issues when it comes to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play however, given that Europe’s governing body has stricter regulations when it comes to amortisation.

In Serie A, both A.C. Milan in 2019 and Juventus last season have qualified for Europe but then been banned due to financial irregularities, accepting this punishment after missing out on the Champions League, a similar fate that could await Chelsea, should they climb the table.

Of course, many supporters may not want to be in the the Conference League, given the lack of prestige and the pitiful €2,940,000 million in prize money on offer for getting into the group stage, an amount that rises incrementally round by round.

Nevertheless, following their laissez-faire approach to spending so far, every penny counts, while extra matches are desperately needed, due to the ridiculously over-bloated squad with which they operate.

We’re almost two seasons into Todd Boehly’s Chelsea experiment and, needless to say, it’s not been successful so far, with Sunday’s defeat at Wembley the closest they’ve got the the glory of yesteryear, which wasn’t actually that long ago, but feels a world away now.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".