Chelsea suffered heartbreak at Wembley again as another domestic final against Liverpool ended with defeat after going all the way to penalties, this time in the FA Cup.
Just as in February's Carabao Cup final, Chelsea and Liverpool had proven to be inseparable over 120 minutes of gruelling and intense football at the national stadium, despite both sides hitting the woodwork.
For the Blues that came in the first half, when Marcos Alonso's free-kick beat Alisson only to come back off the bar during arguably our strongest period of the match.
Liverpool hit both posts in quick succession right at the end of the 90 minutes, through Luis Diaz and Andrew Robertson, but in truth there was little in the way of goalmouth action in the additional 30 minutes.
That meant the destination of the FA Cup trophy would be decided by penalties. Luck wasn't on our side, though. Cesar Azpilicueta was denied by the post, only to see Liverpool's next effort to go in off the woodwork, while Edouard Mendy twice got fingertips to the ball but couldn't keep it out.
He did save the fifth penalty, from his international team-mate Sadio Mane, but then Mason Mount saw his shot saved by Alisson in sudden death and Kostas Tsimikas scored to end our hopes of leaving Wembley with silverware.
The front three of Mason Mount, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Pulisic continued after all finding the back of the net at Leeds in midweek. It was a third consecutive start for Lukaku, the Belgian having scored three goals in his previous two matches.
In midfield, Mateo Kovacic recovered from the injury he suffered at Elland Road sufficiently to be included in the starting line-up, alongside Jorginho, who captained the side. N’Golo Kante was only ready for a place on the bench after his injury, but wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Reece James retained their places.
Edouard Mendy started between the posts once again, but Tuchel made his one change to the defence in front of him. The experienced Thiago Silva returned to the side, replacing Andreas Christensen in the back three with Trevoh Chalobah and Antonio Rudiger.
Liverpool came out of the blocks quickly and threatened Mendy’s goal early on. Diaz found space down the left and put the ball across the face of goal, but it had too much on it for Thiago to meet in the middle. It was partly of our own making, though, as we gave possession away cheaply with an underhit kick by Mendy towards Alonso.
As the Reds tried to turn their promising start into sustained pressure, Diaz soon emerged as their most dangerous attacking threat. The Colombian got free in the left channel again to get on the end of Alexander-Arnold’s through-ball and tried to catch Mendy out at his near post. Our goalkeeper managed to take the pace off the shot with his legs, but it was still creeping towards the goalline before the recovering Chalobah arrived in time to clear the ball from inside the six-yard box.
It was another early warning for the Blues after a difficult opening 10 minutes during which we had struggled to maintain possession, while the movement of Liverpool’s front three was causing us plenty of problems.
The Chelsea supporters in the East end of Wembley, behind Mendy’s goal, had to wait 15 minutes for the Blues to threaten the Liverpool keeper. It came when James sent the ball into the box from the right and, as Lukaku attempted to control, it rolled free towards Pulisic. He fired a low shot just inches wide of the near post, but the referee’s whistle went for an accidental handball by Lukaku.
Gaining a foothold
Pulisic went even closer to opening the scoring with his next attempt. Thiago Silva, the calmest head on the pitch in yellow, carried the ball out of defence and sprayed a pass out right towards James. A nice interchange between the wing-back and Mount ended with the latter cutting a low pass back across goal towards the penalty spot, where it was met by Pulisic’s clever run, but his deft effort rolled narrowly wide of the same left-hand post.
We were starting to carry more of a threat, but there were still too many loose passes for us to sustain control of the ball for too long. A rare calm piece of possession from the Blues at this point in the game resulted in Pulisic breaking through the middle and running at the Liverpool defence, who continued to back off. Eventually the American slid the pass through the defenders to Alonso, but our wing-back’s touch left him stretching and Alisson was able to rush out and block the shot.
The game then quietened down for a while. Liverpool perhaps slightly edged the possession before half-time, but it certainly wasn’t as one-sided as the early stages. Both teams then fired over from promising positions just before half-time, as Jota couldn’t control Robertson’s dangerous cross, and then Lukaku got under the ball when attempting an early shot from Jorginho’s clever pass into the box.
The game opens up
In contrast to the first half, it was Chelsea doing all the attacking in the opening exchanges of the second, and we were unlucky not to take the lead on three separate occasions inside the first two minutes.
Alonso had the first attempt, after Mount cleverly recognised he was in an offside position and allowed the ball to run to James, who picked the Spaniard out at the back post. Alonso chested the ball down well but dragged his shot just wide.
Almost immediately afterwards it was Pulisic who was able to get free inside the box, turning into a promising position, but his shot was too close to Alisson and the goalkeeper was able to block. The third of the three was the closest of the lot, after James was fouled on the byline and Alonso whipped in a dangerous free-kick from a tight angle, which this time had the keeper beaten but came back off the crossbar.
As things started to become more stretched, Alonso and James were finding increasing space in wide areas, with Alonso and Lukaku both going close to getting on the end of dangerous crosses as a result, rousing the Blues fans at that end of the pitch and prompting enthusiastic applause from Tuchel on the touchline.
Even but goalless
That left things probably the most balanced between the two sides they had been all game, as we headed into the last 20 minutes. Although Liverpool were mostly threatening from distance, as Jota, Diaz and Keita all fired wide with efforts, while for our part Alonso and Pulisic both went close again after meeting balls into the box from wide areas.
Things were looking more promising for Chelsea as time wore on, though, and Alexander-Arnold had to produce an excellently timed challenge to nick the ball off the toe of Pulisic as he set himself to shoot from a very promising position on the left side of Liverpool’s box.
However, it was Liverpool who provided the first of the game’s big late scares, twice hitting the woodwork in quick succession. First Diaz found space on the right but struck his powerful shot into the outside of the near post, and then when Robertson arrived around the back to meet a teasing Milner cross, he also could only strike his shot against the post from close range.
That set up a tense end to the 90 minutes for Chelsea, as we were briefly pegged back into our own half, but when Diaz again put a shot wide from outside the box after trying to catch Thiago Silva on the counter, it signalled the end of the scoring opportunities. Just like when these two teams met at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final in February, the game would be going to extra time.
It goes all the way again
After such a tense 90 minutes, it was an understandably slower start to extra time than after either of the two previous kick-offs. Although Kante and Rudiger both had to be alert to snuff out dangerous Liverpool counter-attacks, it wasn’t until Mount curled an effort over the bar from outside the box nearly 10 minutes in that either goal was threatened.
With the exception of a flicked near-post header from Thiago Silva at a corner, which also went over, that was about it for a first period of extra time which revealed little about the potential destination of the FA Cup trophy.
Not much would change in that regard over the next 15 minutes, with no chances for either team as a series of changes took some of the sting out of the game. By the time the referee’s whistle blew to bring another 120 goalless minutes of football between Chelsea and Liverpool to an end at Wembley, the shoot-out had seemed inevitable for a while.
So once again penalties would be needed to separate the two teams, and once again it was Chelsea who ended up losing out in the lottery of a shoot-out. Mendy saved from Mane to keep things alive into sudden death after Azpilicueta had struck the post, but Mount saw his effort saved by Alisson, allowing Tsimikas to score the decisive penalty.
Alonso took the first – scores low to the left – 1-0
Milner first for Liverpool – Mendy gets a hand to it but can’t keep it out – 1-1
Azpilicueta steps up – hits the right-hand post – 1-1
Thiago next – hits the base of the post but it bounces in – 1-2
James for Chelsea – calmly places it down the middle – 2-2
Firmino puts the ball down – Mendy gets a fingertip there again but it’s in – 2-3
Barkley the late substitute – sends Alisson the wrong way – 3-3
Alexander-Arnold – rolls into the bottom corner – 3-4
Jorginho has to score – calmly chips it down the middle – 4-4
Mane with a chance to win it for Liverpool – Mendy saves low to his left! – 4-4
Ziyech the first in sudden death – Scores to the right – 5-4
Jota needs to score – finds the top-right corner – 5-5
Mount up next – Alisson saves low to the left – 5-5
Tsimikas with the chance to win it – scores, it’s all over – 5-6
With the cup competitions over the for the season, attention now turns back to the Premier League for the last two games of our 2021/22 campaign. That comes in the form of two home games at Stamford Bridge, starting against Leicester City on Thursday evening, before our season concludes when we host Watford on Sunday.
Chelsea: Mendy; Chalobah (Azpilicueta 105), Thiago Silva, Rudiger; James, Jorginho (c), Kovacic (Kante 66), Alonso; Mount, Lukaku (Ziyech 85), Pulisic (Loftus-Cheek 105) (Barkley 119)
Unused subs: Kepa, Sarr, Saul, Werner
Booked: James 77
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk (Matip 91), Robertson (Tsimikas 111); Thiago, Henderson (c), Keita (Milner 74); Salah (Jota 33), Mane, Diaz (Firmino 98)
Unused subs: Kelleher, Gomez, Jones, Origi
Referee: Craig Pawson