Chelsea lost the league cup final to Liverpool on Sunday, a final that took 120 scoreless minutes of some of the highest-level soccer you’ll see all season to reach one of the saddest and most hilarious conclusions you’ll see all season. The game should have been filled with goals from both sides, as the 0-0 scoreline belied what was some consistently venomous attacking play. But rather than detract from the game’s quality, the impressive defensive efforts, infuriating offside goals, and last-ditch saves that kept the game scoreless only heightened the drama to set up the wild ending.
Chelsea had the majority of the game’s clear-cut chances, with Christian Pulisic (who once again rocked) forcing a point-blank save in the opening minutes and Mason Mount missing a couple of good looks, most outrageously this one off a perfect Pulisic pass.
Liverpool, meanwhile, looked as deadly as ever with Luis Diaz showing out in just his sixth appearance for the club and the Sadio Mané–Mohamed Salah combination ticking along as usual. They created many goal-worthy chances, only to be thwarted by Édouard Mendy, who produced some real magic for Chelsea. To really love a 0-0 soccer game is to prefer process over result, to appreciate high-quality soccer stuff on its own terms, divorced from consequentiality. I know that’s not an appeal everyone will get on board with, which is fine, though goals are so rare that really being a soccer-enjoyer necessarily means liking the connective tissue of the game. In a game like this, defensive excellence matched offensive ingenuity and produced something special. It was the sort of game that whichever side lost would have felt extremely bad for having lost, as both teams acquitted themselves with real quality. If that all sounds grandiose, don’t worry, things got real dumb at the end.
After a pair of offside goals, the game finally reached penalties. Mendy, despite having turned in a great performance, was subbed off right at the end of extra time for Kepa Arrizabalaga. It may have seemed odd to yank a keeper right before penalties for a guy who’d been sitting for the entire game, but Arrizabalaga has a reputation as something of a penalty specialist. His penalty save record is the best in Chelsea’s history, and Chelsea only reached the league cup final because Arrizabalaga helped them win shootouts against Aston Villa and Southampton. Unfortunately, Sunday was not his day.
Liverpool scored all 11 of their penalties against Arrizabalaga. Virgil van Dijk looked straight to Arrizabalaga’s right and buried his penalty on that side regardless, Andy Robertson buried his through Arrizabalaga’s hand, and Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher scored the eventual winner. When it came time for Arrizabalaga to step up, he sent his kick to the sky gods.
It is not Arrizabalaga’s fault that Chelsea lost, not entirely anyway. Mason Mount’s very bad day was more consequential, and just because the Spaniard was on the field in the most crucial position at the highest-leverage moment that doesn’t mean the loss rests entirely with him. But what a brutal way to lose a game. The same rarity of goals that makes soccer so good also produces its most devastating moments. What’s worse, Arrizabalaga has lost a league cup final before on penalties, infamously refusing to be subbed out ahead of the 2019 final’s shootout, which Chelsea lost 4-3. The poor guy can look like one of the top keepers in the world sometimes, but the nature of the sport and his position is such that the successes are never as prominent as the failures.