It was 12.43am, local time, when the teams were finally prised apart. The players in red had set off on their victory run and Liverpool could start worrying about where to accommodate the Super Cup in an already congested trophy room. This was the fourth time they have won this competition, putting them level with Real Madrid and one behind Barcelona and Milan. “European football royalty” to use the words of the public announcer.
True, the six-time European Cup winners might not value their latest trophy with the affection they reserve for the one Jordan Henderson lifted in Madrid 74 days earlier. All the same, Jürgen Klopp and his players will relish an evening that went into extra-time and then concluded with the high drama of a penalty shootout.
Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, Divock Origi, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah all scored for Liverpool. Jorginho, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount and Emerson did the same for Chelsea but Tammy Abraham’s effort came back off Adrián’s outstretched boot and the goalkeeper, signed only last Monday, suddenly had his new teammates – and, typically, Klopp, too – running in his direction. Everyone but Fabinho, who had gone down a cramp at the end of an exhaustive night.
For Chelsea, it was a cruel way to end the night but they can at least be encouraged by the nature of their performance. Olivier Giroud had given them a first-half lead and when Sadio Mané’s two goals turned the game upside down, the second coming in the 96th minute, Chelsea’s players refused to be cowed. Jorginho’s equaliser came from the penalty spot and, ultimately, it was just a pity for Abraham that every shootout needs a villain as well as a hero. Yet Chelsea could reflect they had their own chances to win the game in normal time. Olivier Giroud had given them a first-half lead and they, too, struck the woodwork. Twice, they had goals disallowed for offside and Liverpool, trying to win this competition for the fourth time, needed a second-half equaliser from Mané to elongate the night.
The problem for Liverpool was reminiscent of their opening game of the Premier League season against Norwich City: a strange vulnerability in defence. Giroud was a difficult opponent for Joël Matip and Virgil van Dijk but it was N’Golo Kanté’s return to the starting lineup that really improved Chelsea’s team. Pedro Rodriguez was heavily involved, just as he had been in Manchester at the weekend, and the Spaniard had flashed a shot against the crossbar even before Giroud eluded Liverpool’s centre-backs, not for the first time, to put Chelsea in front.
Christian Pulisic, starting his first Chelsea match since his £58m acquisition from Borussia Dortmund, also made a strong impression. Pulisic played the key pass for Giroud’s goal and later in the first half it was only a linesman’s flag that deprived him a splendid goal, having turned inside Joe Gomez and Matip before firing a low 20-yard shot into the bottom corner.
Chelsea’s supporters in the far corner responded with the now familiar “V-A-R” chant, hoping the decision might somehow be overturned, though it is also fair to assume they were grateful the officials in charge of the technology did not alert the referee, Stephanie Frappart, to a handball from Andreas Christensen earlier in the match. Christensen had his arms raised when he blocked Sadio Mané’s overhead kick and under the new rules – a point Uefa emphasised in a media briefing on the eve of this match – it should have resulted in a Liverpool penalty.
As it was, Chelsea’s confidence did not seem to have been knocked by the ordeal of losing 4-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday. The truth is they had played stylishly for long spells of that match and, again, they seemed intent on showing they were an accomplished side. Lampard had kept faith with the same back four and this time the team’s defenders were nothing like as accident-prone as they had been in Manchester.
Klopp certainly seemed to have thought Christensen and Kurt Zouma might be susceptible to Mané’s speed and directness. For that reason, Mane was moved into a central position. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took Mané’s usual place on the left, with Roberto Firmino starting on the bench, and Liverpool set off, as they often do, like a team in a hurry.
There are not too many football teams where the centre-half can be seen playing a back-heeled pass in the opposition penalty area, as Van Dijk did here in the opening exchanges. Salah stabbed a shot at Kepa Arrizabalaga with the first clear chance of the evening and, early on, Klopp must have been encouraged by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s determination to make a favourable impression. This was the first time the former Arsenal player had started a competitive fixture since rupturing his knee ligaments in a Champions League tie against AS Roma two seasons ago. It had been 477 days and it was unfortunate for him, perhaps, that he was asked to fill a role to which he was unaccustomed. Nobody should have been too surprised when Firmino replaced him at half-time and Mané switched back to the left.
Adrián, deputising for the injured Alisson in Liverpool’s goal, was certainly kept busier than might have been anticipated. Giroud, in particular, looked as though he wanted to justify his selection, having been left out of Chelsea’s starting XI at the weekend. Kanté’s performance squashed any suggestion that he might have fitness issues and, though many observers prefer the Frenchman to play in the defensive midfield role, he showed here why Lampard, like Maurizio Sarri before him, is willing to play him in a more advanced position.
Liverpool had to improve in the second half and, within three minutes, they had found an equaliser. Salah’s cross from the right struck Mateo Kovacic on the back and that left Firmino in a chase with Kepa, rushing from his goal-line, to reach the bouncing ball first. Firmino got there a split-second earlier than the goalkeeper, touching the ball to his right. Kepa was now stranded and Mané, following up, turned his shot into an exposed net.
After that, it was difficult to choose which team were the more likely winner. Liverpool looked more dangerous with their usual front three in their normal positions but Chelsea continued to move the ball purposefully.
Mason Mount, one of their substitutes, thought he had conjured up a late winner with an elegant left-footed shot but had strayed offside in the build-up. Kepa’s double save from Salah and Van Dijk must count as one of his finest pieces of goalkeeping since joining Chelsea but it was Lampard’s team that looked the more dangerous approaching the 90-minute mark.
Still, though, Liverpool pressed forward. Mané’s second goal came from a rising first-time shot, after a slick exchange of passes with Firmino, but three minutes later the referee ruled that Adrián had brought down Abraham, another of Chelsea’s substitutes. Her colleagues with the VAR monitors decided against over-ruling the decision and Jorginho’s effort meant the game being decided from 12 yards.