Van Dijk steps up as Klopp’s kids beat billion pound Blues

For all the talk about Klopp’s Kids getting the better of Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final, it was one of Liverpool’s old stagers, Virgil Van Dijk, who made the all-important difference.

Virgil Van Dijk has been there and done it all with Liverpool, as their leader of men – and boys on this occasion – so it appropriate that the big Dutchman should invite Klopp to lift the trophy with him after striking the only goal of an enthralling game just two minutes before it went to another penalty shoot-out.

It was a fitting end to a frenetic final, and Van Dijk thoroughly deserved to be the matchwinner for his majestic performance in defence and for having an earlier effort disallowed controversially.

For Klopp, who still has hopes of bowing out of Anfield at the end of the season with an unprecedented quadruple, it was a special moment. “Nobody has to doubt our relationship over the years, it’s a proper bromance!” laughed the manager.

“From the day he stepped into Liverpool football club he has been absolutely outstanding. He is spot-on, in top shape, and we need him.”

“It was easily the most special trophy I have ever won,” he added.

It may seem like hyperbole from a man who has won the games most glittering prizes in Germany, England and Europe, but this was against the odds, as Klopp’s Kids overcame the ‘blue billion pound bottle jobs”, as Gary Neville described Chelsea.

It was in extra-time that Klopp’s youngsters came good, with teenagers Jayden Danns, Bobby Clark and James McConnell making the difference against more expensive opponents. It paid off when Kostas Tsimikas swung in a corner from the right, Van Dijk put the ball in the net and the celebrations could begin. Klopp and his players celebrated in front of their fans long after the final whistle and he was still buzzing in his post-match press conference: “I got told outside that there’s an English phrase, ‘you don’t win trophies with kids’ – I didn’t know that. Yeah!

“It’s absolutely exceptional. Sometimes I get asked if I’m proud of this or that and it’s really tricky. I wish I could feel pride more often, I just don’t do. Tonight there’s an overwhelming feeling, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on here?’ I was proud of everybody involved in everything here.

“I was proud of our people (fans) for the way they pushed us. I was proud of the staff for creating this kind of atmosphere where these boys can just do what they are best at. I was proud of our Academy. I was proud of my coaches. I was proud of so many things. It was really overwhelming.

It had nothing to do with maybe my last game at Wembley. It was really because of how everybody contributed, seeing the faces after the game of the kids – Jayden Danns – can you create in football stories which definitely nobody will ever forget?

“It’s so difficult because this happened before, this happened before, they won it then, there. This tonight, if you find the same story with Academy players coming on against a top, top, top side and still winning it, I never heard.”

The result means Klopp’s side have one trophy in the bag and are still in the running for the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League.

But his squad is beginning to look stretched. Alisson, Mohammed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Curtis Jones, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai were already missing, and 25 minutes into the final, Ryan Gravenberch was taken off on a stretcher after Moises Caicedo’s foul at Wembley. Wataru Endo also left Wembley with his right foot in a protective boot, as injury problems mount up.

It means a lot of those young players will have more chances to show their worth, starting in the FA Cup game against Southampton on Wednesday, and then at Nottingham Forest in the league next Saturday.

The schedule is relentless, as Klopp often reminds us. But as long as he has his rock at the back in Van Dijk, Liverpool have a real chance of more trophies as part of Klopp’s long goodbye.

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