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SPORTS

Klopp Savors His ‘Most Special Trophy’ as Liverpool Wins the English League Cup

February 26, 2024

LONDON (AP) — Jurgen Klopp just couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

It was deep into extra time at Wembley on Sunday and the English League Cup final against Chelsea was locked at 0-0. A penalty shootout loomed.

Yet, with tensions running high, Klopp turned to the Liverpool fans, savored the moment and produced that trademark toothy grin.

Perhaps he knew what was coming. That Virgil van Dijk was about to score a 118th-minute winner to finally break down Chelsea’s resistance and secure a record-extending 10th League Cup trophy for Liverpool.

Perhaps not.

“That would be cool if I could see goals coming. That would relax a lot of moments in my life,” Klopp said afterward — his voice hoarse, likely from the wild celebrations that greeted his eighth trophy as Liverpool manager.

Klopp is stepping down at the end of the season and this may well be his last Wembley final with the club.

Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk celebrates after scoring his side’s first goal during the English League Cup final soccer match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

He said he was simply taking it all in and enjoying watching a new generation of Liverpool players that may turn out to be his lasting legacy after he goes.

“I loved it … What I see today is so exceptional, we might never see it again. Not because I am on the sidelines but because these things don’t happen in football.

“It is in my more than 20 years, easily the most special trophy I ever won. It is absolutely exceptional.”

Van Dijk, Liverpool’s 32-year-old captain, might have produced the decisive moment but it was the efforts of a string of young players, called upon to help ease Liverpool’s extensive injury list, that had Klopp so enthused.

Seven of his winning team were aged 21 or under.

Jayden Danns, aged 18, came on for only his second senior performance. Bobby Clark and James McConnell are both 19.

Their efforts meant that even without the injured Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold and more, Liverpool still triumphed.

“I got told outside there is an English phrase, ‘You don’t win trophies with kids,’” Klopp said. “I didn’t know that. Yeah right.

“Sometimes I’m asked if I am proud of this, proud of that. I don’t know. I wish I could feel pride more often. Tonight was an overwhelming feeling of ‘Oh my God, what is going on here?’ I was proud of everybody involved.”

Victory keeps Klopp on track for a quadruple of trophies in his final year with Liverpool as he looks determined to go out on a high.

His team is currently top of the Premier League and still in contention to win the FA Cup and Europa League. But even if Klopp cannot add those trophies to the full set he has already delivered, he provided Liverpool with another memorable day at Wembley.

Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson, left, hits a header during the English League Cup final soccer match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, must wait for his first piece of silverware in English soccer after failing to lift trophies with Southampton and Tottenham before taking charge at Chelsea.

While he won three trophies including the French league title with Paris Saint-Germain, he is still to taste glory in England.

A first trophy at Chelsea would have eased the pressure after a troubled season in the league.

“If you ask the players how they feel, I feel the same. (It is) so disappointing, so painful,” Pochettino said. “I am a guy that (has) less time to win titles (than the players). They are younger than me, they have time. In football it is always about when you have the opportunity (you take it).

PREMIER LEAGUE

Sheffield United’s players showed the wrong kind of fight after suffering a 19th loss of the season to stay at the foot of the Premier League.

Pablo Sarabia’s 30th-minute header secured a 1-0 win for Wolves at Molineux in the league’s only game Sunday, but perhaps the most notable incident in the match was a clash between Sheffield United players Jack Robinson and Vinicius Souza.

The teammates pushed each other in a heated exchange that led to a VAR review.

Not that Blades manager Chris Wilder seemed too concerned.

“That happens at every club up and down the country, three or four times a year,” he said. “They were told about their responsibilities at halftime. We talked to the boys and they are fine and cool.”

Defeat left Sheffield United eight points off safety.

West Ham hosts Brentford on Monday.

___
By JAMES ROBSON AP Soccer Writer

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