Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool's EFL Cup triumph can be the "springboard" to achieve a remarkable quadruple after they edged Chelsea for a record ninth win in the competition.

Jurgen Klopp's side sealed their first EFL Cup for a decade with a thrilling 11-10 penalty shoot-out victory following a goalless encounter at Wembley Stadium.

Having pressed back into contention for the Premier League, and still in the FA Cup and Champions League, the Reds are looking at a potentially unprecedented silverware haul.

Former Reds defender Carragher certainly believes they can taste further success in the coming months, and hopes their victory over Thomas Tuchel's Blues can launch them onto more glory days this season.

"It can be a springboard," he told Sky Sports. "Liverpool are involved in four trophies, they've won the first one, it's going to be really tough to win the other ones, but this could be a really special season.

"Not just for this group, but Liverpool's history as a club - to getting close to winning three or four trophies, it could be really special, and this could be the start of it."

Another former Liverpool player, Jamie Redknapp, raised concerns about Tuchel's decision to bring Kepa Arrizabalaga on specifically for the shoot-out, with the Spaniard not saving any of Liverpool's 11 penalties and skied the one he took over the bar.

"I hope it puts to bed the idea of bringing on goalkeepers on for shoot-outs," Redknapp told Sky Sports. "[Edouard] Mendy's one of the world's best goalkeepers, and then you bring on Kepa instead. [It's] ridiculous.

"I didn't like his behaviour when the penalties were being taken, and then he took one of the worst penalties you'll ever see. I don't understand why you'd do it."

Caoimhin Kelleher expressed his delight after netting the winning penalty in Liverpool's EFL Cup final triumph over Chelsea, acknowledging he did not realise that his spot-kick had proven decisive at the time.

The enthralling Wembley showpiece saw four goals disallowed across a goalless 120 minutes before 21 consecutive penalties were scored in an incredible penalty shoot-out.

Kelleher, who started the game ahead of Alisson as Jurgen Klopp kept faith with the man who had helped the Reds to Wembley, converted the 21st spot-kick.

Kepa Arrizabalaga was brought on to replace Edouard Mendy specifically for the shoot-out deep into extra-time but shot over to hand Liverpool their first domestic cup in 10 years.

Kelleher told Sky Sports in the aftermath that he was delighted with the success, but admitted he had not realised that he was the match-winner at the time.

"I thought I'd saved one, I got close to a few and then when it came down to me, I didn't even realise I'd scored the winning penalty!", he said.

"I forgot that I'd scored the winning one, all the penalties from the lads were class, and I was just happy to score."

When asked if he had channelled his youth as an outfield player when taking his kick, the 23-year-old responded: "I think it was more hit and hope!

"I got a hand on a few, but all the penalties were very high quality, and I'm just thankful we were able to win.

"I thought we had scored when we got that goal [Joel Matip's second-half disallowed effort], and it was obviously disallowed. They had a few disallowed too, so I think over the game a draw was a fair result."

Kelleher also revealed his exchange with Klopp after the tense finale, with the Liverpool manager telling his young keeper that he had written his name into the club's history.

"He [Klopp] just said 'well done for scoring the winning penalty, there's a wall at Liverpool with all the goalkeepers who have managed to win cups, and he said 'now's your chance to join them!'," he added.

The 11-10 shoot-out win over Chelsea represented the highest-scoring penalty shoot-out in history between two English top-flight teams, with Liverpool's backup keeper eventually proving the unlikely hero in the Reds' record ninth EFL Cup win.

The third major final meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool proved to be a classic.

It was the Reds who triumphed at Wembley, where the crowd were treated to a tale of bad misses and, ultimately, a tale of two goalkeepers.

Caoimhin Kelleher, Liverpool's 23-year-old number two, was their hero, scoring what turned out to be the shoot-out winner as Kepa Arrizabalaga, brought on at the end of extra time by Thomas Tuchel specifically for penalties, blazed his effort high over the bar.

Kepa had proved Chelsea's hero in the Super Cup in August when he replaced Edouard Mendy for that shoot-out, yet history did not repeat itself. Nothing on Sunday went to plan for the Spain international, who had seemed all set to start, given he has been the Blues' regular cup keeper this season.

His strike may well not have been on target if two goals had been stacked on top of each other, and it meant Jurgen Klopp's side won 11-10 on penalties.

It was the highest-scoring penalty shoot-out between two English top-flight teams in history, and brought up a record ninth EFL Cup title for Liverpool, who have collected a fourth major trophy under Klopp, though their first domestic cup of his tenure.

Yet it could all have been very different. Kepa wouldn't have needed to be the butt of all jokes had his team-mates finished some glorious chances, while Liverpool passed up a fair share of their own in what was one of the most thrilling 0-0 draws you are likely to see.

Here are the biggest moments from a memorable showdown...

Pulisic, 6 (xG 0.52)

The first huge moment came within six minutes. Kai Havertz, who would go on to have a superb game, exploited space in midfield and slid a pass out to Cesar Azpilicueta. His low cross found Christian Pulisic in space but the forward clipped a first-time effort straight at Kelleher.

Mane, 30 (xG 0.58)

Having headed wide from an earlier, albeit more difficult, opportunity, Sadio Mane was left bewildered not to be celebrating a goal when Mendy justified Tuchel's selection, making a wonderful save to deny his compatriot from point-blank range.

Mount, 45 (xG 0.6)

Chelsea bookended the first half with another remarkable miss. This time it was Mason Mount who got on the end of Kai Havertz's centre, yet he volleyed wide when it seemed easier to score. Indeed, based on Opta's xG model, this was the best opportunity of a game packed full of golden chances.

Mount, 49 (xG 0.33)

While the xG for this opportunity would suggest Mount only had a 33 per cent chance of scoring, he really should have done better. Put through by a delicately lofted throughball, the England international set himself before sliding a low effort to Kelleher's right, only for the ball to clip away agonisingly off the foot of the post. 

 

Salah, 64 (xG 0.58)

Mendy was almost the master of Chelsea's downfall when he thumped an overhit pass straight out into midfield. Salah capitalised and raced through, lobbing the onrushing goalkeeper, yet there was not enough power on the chip, which may well have been heading wide anyway, and it was cleared.

Matip disallowed goal, 67-69 (xG n/a)

The deadlock seemed to have been broken when Joel Matip headed in from Mane's nod back across goal, only for the VAR to disallow Liverpool's goal due to Virgil van Dijk, who appeared to block Reece James, having been offside in the build-up.

Havertz disallowed goal, 78 (xG n/a)

Chelsea got a taste of the VAR medicine as Havertz's celebrations were cut short after he headed in from Timo Werner's cross, with the creator having strayed offside.

Van Dijk, 90+1 (xG 0.04)

Andrew Robertson and Luis Diaz went close in a scramble, but it was Van Dijk who almost won it for Liverpool in normal time. It was a brilliant header from the towering defender, but Mendy got down low to his left to parry it away.

Lukaku, 90+5 (xG 0.19)

Chelsea had a big moment of their own in stoppage time, but Kelleher – the youngest goalkeeper to start in an EFL Cup final since 2011 – reacted sharply to keep out Lukaku's clever flick at the front post.

 

Lukaku disallowed goal, 98 (xG n/a)

Lukaku showed flashes of his Inter form as he raced through, isolated a defender and slotted home at the near post early in extra time, only for the offside flag to go up again. The VAR checked the decision, but by the finest of margins the forward was indeed offside.

Havertz disallowed goal, 109 (xG n/a)

Havertz finished superbly across Kelleher in the second half of extra time, yet the Germany international was also stood in an offside position when he received Lukaku's pass.

Kepa's howler, penalties

In remarkable scenes, the shoot-out went all the way to 22 kicks, and it was the goalkeepers who had to step up. But having been brought on to save spot-kicks, Kepa did not seem ready to take one, and he lashed his effort way, way over the crossbar, sealing a Liverpool win in a classic final that, somehow, finished 0-0.

Liverpool won the EFL Cup by beating Chelsea on penalties following a goalless draw at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, with Kepa Arrizabalaga missing the 22nd kick of the shoot-out.

A tight encounter saw several big chances missed and four goals disallowed in all, before Kepa – who was brought on specifically for the shoot-out – missed the decisive penalty.

The remarkable finish means Liverpool have now won a record nine EFL Cups – one more than Manchester City – with this Jurgen Klopp's first domestic cup since arriving at Anfield in 2015.

European and world champions Chelsea will rue their wasted opportunities even before the spot-kicks in their fourth consecutive domestic final defeat.

Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara was withdrawn from the Reds' starting XI for the EFL Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium after suffering an injury in the warm-up.

Naby Keita replaced the Spain international, with Harvey Elliott taking Keita's place among the substitutes.

Thiago – who was seen to be crying on the bench – has been in excellent form for the Reds, including playing 68 minutes in the 6-0 demolition of Leeds United on Wednesday before being subbed for Jordan Henderson, presumably to ensure he was fit for Sunday's final.

It had earlier been confirmed that Diogo Jota had made the bench after missing Premier League wins over Norwich City and Leeds United following a knock picked up against Inter in the Champions League on February 16.

Romelu Lukaku was named on the bench for a second straight game by Thomas Tuchel, while Chelsea opted for Edouard Mendy ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal.

Romelu Lukaku was named on the bench for a second straight game by Thomas Tuchel in Sunday's EFL Cup final, while Chelsea opted for Edouard Mendy ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga against Liverpool.

Lukaku's role in the Chelsea team has been the subject of some debate all season long and came to the fore again following his display in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League on February 19. 

The Belgium striker managed just seven touches – the fewest of any player to complete 90 minutes in a single top-flight game since Opta has the data available (2003-04) – and was subsequently dropped to the bench for the win over Lille in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Tuchel said that decision was made to keep Lukaku out of "the next fire", seemingly hinting at a return at Wembley, but Kai Havertz was again preferred when the Chelsea team was announced on Sunday.

Tuchel's other conundrum was whether to start Kepa, who has starred as Chelsea's cup goalkeeper. However, first-choice Mendy, as in the Club World Cup final, was preferred.

Hakim Ziyech did not make the matchday squad, but Mateo Kovacic was named in the XI. Both men had hobbled off against Lille.

Andreas Christensen's absence created space for Trevoh Chalobah to be brought in, while Reece James returned to the bench for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury on December 29 against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Jurgen Klopp made for two alterations to the Liverpool line-up that hammered Leeds United 6-0 on Wednesday, keeping faith with his cup keeper in Caoimhin Kelleher while Jordan Henderson returned.

Diogo Jota made the bench after missing Premier League wins over Norwich City and Leeds, following a knock picked up against Inter in the Champions League on February 16.

Leeds United are being drawn into the relegation battle, mounting pressure on manager Marcelo Bielsa.

The Whites enjoyed a top-half finish in their return to the Premier League last season but have struggled this term.

Leeds have managed one point from their past six league games, conceding 20 goals in their past five.

TOP STORY – BIELSA EXITS STRUGGLING LEEDS

The Sun claims Marcelo Bielsa has quit as Leeds United manager with ex-RB Leipzig boss Jesse Marsch set to replace him.

Bielsa resigned after Leeds were hammered 4-0 by Tottenham on Saturday, having conceded 14 goals in their past three league games.

The Argentinean's exit from Elland Road is being thrashed out between lawyers, with Fabrizio Romano claiming that Marsch – who left Leipzig in December and previously managed Salzburg and New York Red Bulls – is the favourite to take over.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have slapped a £50million price tag on goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga who is wanted by Newcastle United, reports the Daily Star. The Blues signed Kepa in 2018 as the most expensive goalkeeper in history.

Manchester United are lining up two young talents according to the Mirror. The Red Devils are set to table bids for PSV's Cody Gakpo and Sporting CP's Joao Palhinha.

Liverpool target Darwin Nunez is interested in joining the Reds according to Football Insider. The 22-year-old Uruguay international is currently with Benfica.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Barcelona are ahead of Bayern Munich in the race to sign Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen.

It is not uncommon for second-choice goalkeepers to be given minutes in the early rounds of cup competitions, only for the number one to return when it comes down to the crunch.

Yet for Kepa Arrizabalaga, that will almost certainly not be the case.

Signed in 2018 from Athletic Bilbao for £71.6million (€80m), which is still a record fee for a goalkeeper, Kepa undoubtedly struggled in his first few seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, Kepa's form was so worrying that Chelsea, then managed by club great Frank Lampard, decided to sign Edouard Mendy from Rennes in 2020, just two years after shelling out that record-setting fee.

Yet since Thomas Tuchel came into the club, Kepa has been given a new lease of life.

While Mendy has solidified his place as the number one, Kepa has stepped up when called upon.

The nervous, shaky youngster has made way for a player who once again seems confident in his own ability and his right to play for the European champions.

With Mendy staying as the first choice in the Premier League and Champions League, for now, Kepa has nailed down a starting spot in the domestic cup competitions, and looks set to start against Liverpool in the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

Should he turn in another match-winning display, as he did in the UEFA Super Cup last year, then Tuchel may well have a decision to make on just who is his first choice after all.

What went wrong?

Kepa's move to Chelsea came in the same window that Liverpool had splashed out on Alisson, and there was plenty of expectation on both goalkeepers.

But while Alisson thrived under the pressure, going on to help Liverpool win the Champions League and then the Premier League a year later, Kepa crumbled.

The Spaniard also made headlines when he refused to be subbed off before a penalty shoot-out in, ironically, the EFL Cup final. Maurizio Sarri's side lost to Manchester City.

Across 36 league appearances that season, Kepa conceded 39 goals. Eight of these came from shots outside the box, with only five goalkeepers conceding more long-range efforts. His overall save percentage was 67.77, ranking him 15th in the competition.

Another way to assess the quality of Kepa's shot-stopping is by using the expected goals on target (xGOT) model to calculate the number of goals Kepa actually prevented. xGOT measures not just the quality of a chance (xG) but the quality of the attempt itself.

Kepa's Premier League xGOT figure for 2018-19 was 37.1. Minus the 39 goals he conceded, Kepa essentially allowed in just over two more goals than the numbers would suggest (-1.9).

In comparison, Alisson finished the season having prevented 5.5 goals in the league through the quality of his saves, while West Ham's Lukasz Fabianski, for example, had an outstanding figure of 12.9. 

Yet it was in 2019-20 that Kepa's form truly dropped off. He conceded 47 times from 33 league appearances, with only seven goalkeepers allowing more goals. His save percentage of 53.47 was the poorest in the league, out of shot-stoppers to play at least 10 times, while his goals prevented figure was -10.7 (including penalties, but excluding own goals).

 

Chelsea claimed a top-four place and reached the FA Cup final, yet it was Willy Caballero, not Kepa, who helped them get to a Wembley showdown and, at the start of 2020-21, they drafted in Mendy from Rennes.

Turning point

Things hardly improved for Kepa at the start of 2020-21. Across the Premier League season, no goalkeeper made more errors leading to goals than the Spain international, who committed three such mistakes in just seven appearances.

All of those mistakes came in his first three league appearances of the season, and he did not feature again in the top flight under Lampard, next playing in February. He made four saves, including an impressive stop from Joe Willock late on, as Tuchel's team defeated Newcastle United 2-0.

That, perhaps, was the start of Kepa's resurgence. Chelsea again reached the final of the FA Cup, and again lost - this time to a Youri Tielemans stunner for Leicester City - but Kepa played in all six of those cup matches.

However, the true turning point came in August's Super Cup. Tuchel's side triumphed 6-5 on penalties over Europa League winners Villarreal following a 1-1 draw in Belfast, and Kepa was the hero.

In contrast to that 2019 EFL Cup final, Kepa was the goalkeeper brought on specifically for penalties this time, and he denied Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol to ensure victory.

Back at his best?

Perhaps Kepa will need to move on to be a first-choice goalkeeper once again. After all, at 27 he can no longer be counted as a youngster, and as it stands Mendy is still Tuchel's number one.

Though Kepa will get his chance in Sunday's EFL Cup final, surely, to help Chelsea claim a third trophy of the season, following the Super Cup and the Club World Cup, in which he featured in the semi-final.

Since that Super Cup success, Kepa has been a consistent performer. In his 13 games across all competitions, he has conceded just eight goals, keeping six clean sheets.

Those eight goals have come from an xGOT of 18.5, meaning Kepa's "goals prevented" figure is now way into the black, at 10.5.

 

In fact, that figure is the best of any goalkeeper in Europe's top five leagues in all competitions, proving just how much Kepa has come on over the course of the last year.

Mendy, in comparison, has stopped just over three goals with his saves, while Kepa also holds a better save percentage (83.7 to Mendy's 77.4), and he has established himself as worthy competition.

It may not be what Chelsea had in mind when they paid that world record fee in 2018, but if he helps them to another piece of silverware on Sunday, it would be hard to argue he is not starting to prove his worth.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich announced on Saturday he is handing over the "stewardship and care" of the club to the trustees of its charitable foundation.

One topic sure to take up plenty of column inches at the end of the season will be the appointment of Manchester United's next permanent manager, but one front-runner may be out of the race already.

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino has been heavily tipped to make a sensational return to the Premier League to take over at Old Trafford.

However, the former Tottenham manager may have already turned down the opportunity while he waits for what he considers to be a better offer from elsewhere.

TOP STORY - POCHETTINO HOLDING OUT FOR REAL MADRID

Pochettino has been linked with the manager's role at Man Utd since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked in November, but has turned the opportunity down as he waits for Real Madrid, according to Sport.

Ralf Rangnick was appointed as interim manager at the Premier League club after Solskjaer's departure and will play a role in deciding on the next permanent Red Devils boss at the end of the campaign.

However, it seems the Argentine may have ruled himself out of contention as he believes he could have an opportunity waiting for him at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The report claims that Los Blancos president Florentino Perez has Pochettino "in mind as one of Madrid's future coaches", and that should the Spanish giants decide to dismiss Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the season, he would be one of the leading candidates to replace the Italian at the helm.

ROUND-UP

- PSG are considering an off-season move for Chelsea star N'Golo Kante, whose contract at the Blues expires in 2023, according to the Telegraph.

- The Daily Express reports that Harry Kane may once again try to force a move away from Tottenham if manager Antonio Conte does leave the club.

- Georginio Wijnaldum could leave PSG after only one season, with West Ham, Atletico Madrid and Aston Villa among those interested in the former Liverpool midfielder, says Calciomercato.

- The same publication also believes that RB Leipzig left-back Angelino could leave Germany at the end of the season, with Barcelona, Arsenal and Tottenham all interested in the former Manchester City man.

- Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen will not join another Premier League club when his contract expires at the end of the season, but could move to either Barcelona or Bayern Munich, according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also reports that PSG are "really convinced" to make the loan move of left-back Nuno Mendes from Sporting CP permanent for a fee of around €40million.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel admits that potential government sanctions for club owner Roman Abramovich are "distracting and worrying" for him and his players.

Abramovich was named in parliament on Thursday as the UK government considers sanctions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine which may impact the Blues.

Labour MP Chris Bryant informed parliament from a leaked 2019 Home Office document that Abramovich had been identified for having links with the Russian state.

The 55-year-old Russian has owned Chelsea since 2003 and invested vast amounts into the European champions with Tuchel admitting the situation had left his mind "clouded".

"We should not pretend that this is not an issue and I agree,” Tuchel told reporters ahead of Sunday's EFL Cup final with Liverpool. “The situation in general, for me and for my staff and for everybody here at the Cobham, for the players, is horrible. Nobody expected this.

“It’s pretty unreal, it’s clouding our minds, it’s clouding excitement towards the final and it brings huge uncertainty. Much more to all people and families who are actually more involved than us. And our best wishes and our regards and thoughts are obviously with them.

“Still, there are so many uncertainties around the situation of our club and of the situation in the UK with scenarios like this that it makes no sense if I comment on it."

The Home Office document linked Abramovich to "corrupt activity and practices" with the Russian state, which he has vehemently disputed along with reports he has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin.

“I am aware of all these scenarios and I am aware of all these discussions at the moment,” Tuchel said. “I would love to take my right not to comment on this until there is a decision made. But we are aware of it and it’s distracting us, it’s worrying us.

"To a certain degree I can understand the opinions and the critical opinions towards the club, towards us who represent that club. I can understand that and we cannot fully free ourselves from it.

“Maybe people understand that me as a coach or the players, we don’t have the insight what is really going on. At the moment we don’t feel responsible for all this. We feel that it is horrible and there can be no doubt about it.

"War in Europe was unthinkable for me for a long period. The impact is clear and the discussions have an impact. Let’s be a bit more patient and understand what the measurements will be and then we have to maybe deal with it.”

Liverpool's "one club mentality" has been proven by their run to the EFL Cup final, according to Jurgen Klopp's assistant Pep Lijnders.

Reds assistant coach Lijnders has taken all of the pre-match news conferences ahead of EFL Cup games this season and Liverpool saw no reason to break with that tradition ahead of Sunday's clash with Chelsea at Wembley.

It will be the third major final between the sides, with Chelsea winning the previous two meetings – 3-2 in the 2004-05 EFL Cup and 2-1 in the 2011-12 FA Cup.

Liverpool, however, are in the hunt for a record ninth EFL Cup crown, with their last success in the competition coming in 2012 via a penalty shoot-out win over Cardiff City. This is their 13th final in the competition – at least four more than any other side – though their first since 2016, when they lost to Manchester City.

Lijnders believes Liverpool have blended youth and experience perfectly throughout their run to Wembley, and thinks this is a sign the Reds are now a truly elite club.

"We have tradition in both, history in both [cup competitions]," he said.

"This is a competition where we want to bring young talent to showcase, that's really important.

"If you look at the best teams in the world, what do they have in common? It is the one club mentality and this journey in the EFL Cup shows we have exactly that.

"Now we are two days away from a final and we want to go into it with all we have, make it a proper game, we can't wait of course to go to Wembley, see all the fans, hear them, feel them.

"For the whole club it is a big compliment. This competition is so much more than just the first team, it was a proper compliment to our academy as well.

"We have to be spot on but we really look forward to it. We don't want to be the best team in the world, but we want to be the team that is capable of the best teams in the world."

Lijnders has come more into the foreground this season, at least in terms of his media duties, but he emphasised the importance of Klopp's entire backroom team as Liverpool aim to win a third major trophy under the German.

"Jurgen is so much more than a colleague, I am really grateful and happy with the way we work together," Lijnders added.

"It's not just me and him, it's so much more backroom staff who constantly are in our ears to make decisions or put us to the right path. Our togetherness comes from something.

"If you have a group of staff that show leadership it is probably the most powerful tool, we want our team to see how we are and it is important that they see that the manager, assistant manager, the other assistants, all of us are so close. There's a team behind the team and a manager is as good as the team behind the team."

Liverpool, however, will not be changing their routine just because they are playing in a final.

"When we started this project, we came to the conclusion that the way to be successful was just to focus on the next game," Lijnders said.

"Our group created the mentality that each next game was a final, or we could never have reached the levels we reached. We see each game literally as a final so nothing changes. We really see each game as a final, believe me."

It was a sentiment echoed by captain Jordan Henderson, who said: "Nothing different to what I normally do. Yes, it's a cup final, you get everything around that, but you have to treat it as any other game. We'll give everything, hopefully that's enough for us to win the trophy."

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel suggested Liverpool are slight favourites ahead of the EFL Cup final, but says it will be a "pleasure" to face off against his compatriot Jurgen Klopp.

Chelsea are facing the Reds in a major final for the third time in their history - excluding the Community Shield and the UEFA Super Cup - with the Blues winning on both previous occasions, 3-2 in the 2005 EFL Cup final and 2-1 in 2012's FA Cup showpiece. 

But with Liverpool on a run of nine consecutive wins in all competitions and on the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple, Tuchel believes that Klopp's team should be considered slight favourites on Sunday.

"I think maybe 50 to 55 per cent, they are the favourites, because of their recent form and their recent results", the 48-year-old said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"It's a big challenge, a big occasion, and we feel competitive. It's a pleasure to meet Jurgen in a final at Wembley. We are very grateful for the chance.

"Playing against teams coached by Jurgen is not only about pleasure, because they give you a very hard time!

"But we have things to draw on, we have experienced tight matches against Liverpool, I think the last three were draws. 

"That won't happen this time, there will be a winner somehow, but we know what it takes in a tough match against them, and we feel confident that we have what it takes. 

"It's the same for them, and it's nice to have a match like this in a final."

Sunday's outing will represent Chelsea's ninth final appearance in the competition's history, and the Blues have won the EFL Cup on five occasions, with only Manchester City and Liverpool (both eight) posting more triumphs.

Tuchel was also asked about the condition of striker Romelu Lukaku, who was dropped for Chelsea's 2-0 Champions League victory over Lille, after he managed just seven touches in a 1-0 Premier League win over Crystal Palace.

 

The German boss questioned whether too much focus has been placed on Lukaku in recent weeks, and refused to engage with speculation that he was unsettled.

"I would say [he has been] good, like everybody else," Tuchel responded when asked about the Belgium striker. 

"You know, I know, he's an important player, if you pay a lot of money these days for one single player there's a lot of focus on the player. Sometimes it's not fair, sometimes it's a bit too much.

"I did not read the headlines. This is maybe the best thing to do. I trust my players and their focus.

"What other choice is there? There is no transfer period right now and everybody is hugely involved in the goals that we want to achieve together.

"The truth is we can only achieve them together, and we can only achieve them with a strong Romelu, a strong Jorginho, a strong everybody."

Liverpool will monitor the fitness of Diogo Jota ahead of their EFL Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday, but Reds assistant manager Pep Ljinders confirmed Roberto Firmino is out of contention.

Jota and Firmino suffered knocks against Inter in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on February 16, and subsequently missed Premier League wins over Norwich City and Leeds United.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp conceded that the pair were both doubts for the final before the Leeds' game, in which fellow attackers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane netted two goals each.

Ljinders provided another update on the duo on Friday as he offered faint hope that Jota could play some part against Thomas Tuchel's men.

"Bobby [Firmino] we will have to see in the next two days, he's pushing himself really hard, but he will not be available for the final, to reach the squad," Ljinders said.
 
"We hope he will be back really soon because you all see and feel how important he is for our way of playing. [We are] happy that he's pushing himself, hopefully he's soon back.
 
"Jota, there has been so far no reaction on the things he did – the straight-line running, the little ball work he did, so that's a good sign. He isn't ruled out but it will still be a challenge."

The Reds will be hoping Jota can beat the clock to feature, given he could become only the second ever Liverpool player to score in each of the quarter-final, semi-final and final of the competition in a single season (replays included), after Kenny Dalglish in 1980-81.

Nevertheless, Klopp's side will be left in capable hands even without Jota, with new boy Luis Diaz, Salah and Mane to call upon in the frontline.

Mane has scored eight goals against Chelsea in all competitions, only netting more in his career in England against Crystal Palace (13), while Salah leads the Premier League scoring charts with 19 this term.

The Senegal international, however, is yet to score an EFL Cup goal for the Reds in three previous appearances for them in the competition, the most recent of which was against Chelsea in the 2018-19 third round.

Thomas Tuchel hopes to have a fully-fit Chelsea squad for the EFL Cup final against Liverpool after Hakim Ziyech and Mateo Kovacic recovered from knocks, while Reece James could also return.

Ziyech and Kovacic were both doubtful for the Wembley showpiece after picking up injuries in Chelsea's routine 2-0 Champions League win over Lille in midweek, while James has not appeared since December 29.

Chelsea are seeking their fourth trophy under Tuchel, having already won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup.

The Blues will also be the first team in English football history to compete in one of the major domestic cup finals (League Cup/FA Cup) in six consecutive campaigns on Sunday, having reached FA Cup finals in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021, and EFL Cup finals in 2019 and 2022.

The Chelsea head coach's cause has been aided by the return of several key figures ahead of the clash with Jurgen Klopp's side.

"We had training today with everybody out on the pitch, except for Ben Chilwell," Tuchel said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "It's brilliant news.

"Both [Ziyech and Kovacic] are okay, today they were not out training with separate programmes, everybody joined in with team training.

"We have no [bad] reactions, only positive reactions. I hope it will stay like this. We have another training session tomorrow, but we hope to have everybody available."

James recorded four goals and five assists in the first half of the Premier League season, and could provide another boost for Tuchel, who remains excited by the prospect of the wing-back's return. 

However, the German boss conceded that he was unsure whether James would be fit enough to start at Wembley.

"He looked brilliant in the last two training sessions," he added. "Let's wait another session and let's see if I'm crazy enough to put him on the pitch!"

Tuchel was guarded as to which of his goalkeepers would start against the Reds, with Kepa Arrizabalaga starting all five matches in the competition so far, while Edouard Mendy has starred in trophy wins for both club and country in 2022.

Asked about the goalkeeper decision, Tuchel responded: "I will not tell you. I will take the decision later. 

"Kepa played in the Club World Cup semi-final and brought us to the final, but then we took the decision to go with Edou for the final, who was back from the Africa Cup of Nations.

"The last decision will be taken after training, as always. Kepa did fantastic in the period that we had to be without Edou, so it's [both] an uncomfortable and very comfortable situation to be in."

Kepa refused to be substituted as Chelsea were beaten on their last EFL Cup final appearance, losing on penalties to Manchester City in 2019 under Maurizio Sarri.

But the goalkeeper has impressed with two clean sheets in four league appearances during Mendy's recent stint on international duty, leaving Tuchel with options heading into the domestic final.

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