Liverpool continue to make heroes in an unforgettable season, racking up silverware, hinting at something historic. On this occasion, it was the substitute left-back, Kostas Tsimikas, who made the difference, proving that even the most unknown members of Jürgen Klopp’s squad can count on them.
Featured as a substitute in the final stages of extra time, the Greece international, who joined Olympiakos in the summer of 2020 for £11.7m, stepped up to take Liverpool’s seventh penalty in the shootout . It was the kick that won the FA Cup.
Liverpool had been in the same situation at the end of the fifth inning. César Azpilicueta had hit the post for Chelsea with the first kick of the second round and Sadio Mané served the mission from the spot, intending to complete phase two of Operation Quadruple.
Mané seemed to be taking his time on the walk, savoring it. He scored the decisive penalty for Senegal in their victories in the Africa Cup of Nations final and World Cup qualifiers. Everyone knew he was going to score. But he didn’t, his Senegalese teammate Edouard Mendy going the right way to save.
It was a moment of the purest drama. Thomas Tuchel, the manager of Chelsea, beat the delirious grass. It was back for his team; the opportunity to end a traumatic season in style. And then he was ripped off again after Alisson read of Mason Mount’s intentions to make an exceptional save to his left.
Enter Tsimikas. What a moment for the 26-year-old. And he made it a career milestone with the coolest finishes. Half of Liverpool’s stadium exploded, red flares illuminating the scene, and Klopp could celebrate adding the FA Cup to his CV.
Klopp wants more. The Premier League look like a big ask, with their side trailing Manchester City by three points with two games to play – and an inferior goal difference. Then there’s the small matter of the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28.
There was a scare here when Mohamed Salah was sent off with injury in the 32nd minute, but now was not the time to dwell on it, rather for the club to enjoy a first FA Cup since victory inspired by Steven Gerrard on West Ham in 2006, which was also won on penalties.
Is there a team that has shown greater composure in shootouts over the years than Liverpool? Their first trophy of that season had been won on penalties – the Carabao Cup against Chelsea – and there were parallels to that day, not least in the way both teams failed to try their luck in of a dead end.
It was not as open as the previous opus, heavy legs after a long season. For Chelsea, there was the emotional exhaustion of the impending takeover; for Liverpool, the ruthlessness of a schedule that could bring ultimate glory. But there were still plenty of opportunities.
The tension was steadily mounting and Liverpool thought they had gone through it not once but twice in a whirlwind 60 seconds into the 83rd minute. Instead, they hit the post twice. First, the excellent Luis Díaz fired against the outside of the right post then Andy Robertson, who arrived to meet a cross from substitute James Milner, crashed into the other.
Chelsea had been begging for what Tuchel called an ‘injection of positivity’ from that showpiece and they almost got it in normal times, before the slow and inevitable march to penalties. There were big chances for Christian Pulisic and Marcos Alonso in the first half and Alonso again just after the interval. The left-back would also shake the crossbar with a free kick in the 48th minute from a tight angle.
Tuchel made the same move he did in the Carabao Cup, introducing a player specifically for the shootout in the 119th minute. Back then it was the goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, and we all remember how it worked. This time it was Ross Barkley for a baffled Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who came on as a substitute. Barkley didn’t touch the ball before the final whistle, meaning his only touch was when he came on in the fourth round. He walked past Alisson.
Mendy would go after penalties from Milner and Roberto Firmino but to no avail, and the Chelsea players collapsed on the turf when it was all over. It was their third FA Cup final in a row and their third defeat, a new unwanted record. The Carabao Cup rematch was on their minds. They didn’t understand it.
Liverpool had laid the groundwork, Días worrying Trevoh Chalobah with his pace. He almost picked off Thiago with a cross, then missed a one-on-one after a wonderful through ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Credit Mendy with a big block.
Chelsea fought back after a difficult 20-minute opener. Pulisic trailed wide then played Alonso, whose first touch dropped him. Romelu Lukaku also shot high. Tuchel’s side had plenty of chances early in the second half, with Alonso firing beyond the far post before his free-kick and Pulisic extending Alisson.
Diogo Jota, who replaced Salah, missed two good chances as the ball didn’t go in for Días. But Liverpool found a way.