Why Thiago Silva lost it with N’Golo Kante as Chelsea enjoy benefit of Real Madrid transfer call

Why Thiago Silva lost it with N'Golo Kante as Chelsea enjoy benefit of Real Madrid transfer call

Tuchel masterclass

There were several big selection decisions Thomas Tuchel made for the Carabao Cup final. And almost all of them paid off for the Chelsea head coach.

Blues goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was brought into the starting XI for the first time in this season’s competition. Kepa Arrizabalaga was forced onto the substitutes’ bench, although the Spaniard did come on in for the penalty shootout only to then miss the device spot-kick.

The game wouldn’t have been settled from 12 yards without Mendy, though. There was his outstanding double save in the opening 45 minutes to deny Naby Keita and Sadio Mane, two fine stops to keep Luis Diaz at bay in the second period, and an excellent save to keep out a Virgil van Dijk header.

Mendy underlined his status as Chelsea’s number one goalkeeper. He certainly didn’t deserve to be on the losing side at Wembley. Nor did the majority of those in blue.

Kai Havertz, for example, was hugely impressive as the Blues’ number nine. The 22-year-old led the Chelsea attack ahead of club-record signing Romelu Lukaku and his movement, skill and tenaciousness gave Liverpool’s centre-back duo of Joel Matip and van Dijk problems throughout.

Havertz was unfortunate to have two goals chalked off due to offside calls – as was Lukaku, who was introduced in the second period. But the reason Chelsea were beaten at Wembley wasn’t these decisions, nor was it Kepa’s skied penalty in truth, it was the Blues’ wastefulness in front of goal.

Christian Pulisic missed a good chance for Chelsea inside six minutes but it was Mason Mount’s two clear-cut opportunities that were spurned that truly hurt. The England international will know he could’ve won the game at Wembley.

“I saw a brilliant match of football over 120 minutes and we played a huge part of it,” an upbeat Tuchel said after Chelsea’s penalty shootout defeat. “I have the feeling we created a bit more, were a bit more there, but maybe that is also subjective.

“This game could’ve easily gone either way. You need a bit of luck and momentum to win it. We can’t have any regrets. I am proud of the performance and the team.

“There are a lot of good things and I told the guys we should not lose sleep about this. It was an entertaining match of football that was full of intensity and I am very, very happy to have had the chance to be part of this.”

Silva delivers again

It was last summer that Thiago Silva laid out his plans for the rest of his playing career. “I hope I can do the same thing that Paolo Maldini did at Milan, playing until he was 40 or 41 years old,” the centre-back said.

“That’s my plan for the immediate future. I have prepared myself for that and now at 36 years old I continue to play at a high level and that gives me a great deal of pride.”

Since those comments, Silva has celebrated his 37th birthday, yet he shows no sign of slowing down. If anything, he is only improving the older he gets.

That was emphasised in midweek against Lille, a game in which Silva produced a flawless display. And the Brazilian repeated the trick at Wembley.

Again stationed in the middle of the back three – where he is somewhat protected – Silva didn’t put a foot wrong. He stepped forward to win the ball when required, dropped off to ensure he wasn’t caught out by Mane’s pace, and made more clearances than any other player (12).

One of which was vital and came from underneath Silva’s own crossbar as he hooked a goalbound Mohamed Salah shot away from goal.

What is difficult to appreciate when not inside the stadium, however, is how much organisational work Silva does. He is constantly speaking to centre-backs on either side of him or the two midfielders ahead.

He isn’t afraid to call people out when mistakes are made either; Silva angrily bellowed at N’Golo Kante in the second period after a sloppy pass from the Frenchman allowed Liverpool to start an attack.

 

The one-year contract extension Silva signed last month ensures he will remain with Chelsea until he is at least 38 years old. But given his performances this season, you certainly wouldn’t bet against him following in Maldini’s footsteps and playing into his forties.

VAR frustration

There was little argument from Chelsea supporters that the two goals Havertz scored at Wembley were wrongly ruled out.

The first was because Timo Werner was offside in the build-up and the second was because the 22-year-old was marginally ahead of play when Lukaku delivered his cross into the Liverpool box.

Yet the goal scored by the Belgian did frustrate, largely because on the replays it appeared as though Lukaku was onside when slipped through by Trevoh Chalobah.

“If you look at the line that is drawn on the Romelu goal, it’s a bit of a weird line where it’s drawn and then to make the decision that it’s offside,” Tuchel said with a hint of frustration.

What wasn’t referenced by the German, though, was Keita’s second-half challenge on Chalobah. The Chelsea academy graduate was left needing six stitches in his upper thigh after being caught by the Liverpool midfielder, who was extremely fortunate not to see as much as a yellow card.

The disallowed Lukaku very much stole focus for the incident but Chalobah questioned the call made by referee Stuart Attwell after the match. “Had to get stitches because of this,” he wrote alongside a video of the incident. “Referee is right there I don’t get it??”

Kovacic ascent continues

At the start of the campaign, Kovacic was behind N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in the midfield pecking order. Now, he has moved ahead of the latter and is very much on an equal footing with the former.

Kovacic has blossomed into one of Europe’s finest central midfielders this term. There is more ambition and purpose to his passing, more risks taken to get the ball into the final third, and without the ball he is having more influence than in seasons past.

Were it not for the hamstring he suffered that kept him out for more than two months during the first half of the campaign, Kovacic would be one of the leading contenders to be Chelsea’s Player of the Season once again.

Against Liverpool, the Croatian helped contain the Reds’ midfield trio of Keita, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho while also posing a threat with his passing – there was one fine through pass to Havertz in the opening 45 minutes and it was Kovacic’s dink that resulted in Werner crossing for Havertz, whose header was eventually ruled out.

The jury remained out on Kovacic after his first couple of years at Chelsea, the first of which he spent on loan from Real Madrid. And some questioned whether his £40million signing was a mistake. But now, it appears as though the Blues claimed themselves a bargain when they brought the Croatia international to Stamford Bridge.

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