Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool showed Chelsea how to win with young players

<span>‘Billion-pound bottlejobs’ versus Klopp’s kids: <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Chelsea;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Chelsea</a>’s <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Enzo Fernández;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Enzo Fernández</a> and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Malo Gusto;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Malo Gusto</a>, and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Liverpool;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Liverpool</a>’s <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jarell Quansah;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jarell Quansah</a> and James McConnell.</span><span>Composite: Guardian Picture Desk</span>

Life must be very confusing right now if you’re a Chelsea exec. You’ve spent $1bn buying kids and found yourself ridiculed for it and then you go and lose 1-0 in the Carabao Cup final to a load of Liverpool’s kids and somehow everybody’s praising them for it.

Yet even by the end of extra-time, by which point Liverpool seemed to have raided the club creche in search of bodies to chuck into the fray, the XI that Chelsea had on the pitch had a combined age 16 years lower than that of Jürgen Klopp’s. It was Liverpool, though, who were hailed for believing in youth, while Chelsea were derided as bottlers who had wasted a great opportunity. But that’s the difference between exigency and what might loosely be described as the plan. Klopp was rightly praised for having faith in his young players – the 19-year-old midfielder James McConnell in particular stood out for his presence and composure on the ball – but he was using them only because of injuries.

Klopp didn’t want to have to turn to three teenagers but, having accepted it was essential, he embraced the situation, throwing them on even before 90 minutes. If a key element of management is a confidence trick, what better way to bolster those players’ self-belief than by trusting them for the whole of extra-time and more? Klopp turned emergency into virtue. It would have been very easy to use them grudgingly, to show they were being brought on only because others were exhausted but instead he made full use of their energy and the result was that the flow of the game, which had been in Chelsea’s favour towards the end of the 90 minutes, turned back towards Liverpool.

Related: ‘It’s that last hurrah’: Joe Gomez rules out Klopp U-turn after Carabao Cup win

It’s reasonable then to ask why, as Chelsea’s legs went in extra-time, Mauricio Pochettino had no option he trusted. Entitled to make six changes, he made only four. And that’s perhaps the difference between a settled squad and youth system assembled over the course of a decade that has a sense of common purpose so that, even with 11 injuries, it has a clear direction of travel, and whatever it is that Chelsea have been doing over the past two years, flogging off academy products to leave a mismatched bunch of inexperienced talents.

There remains bewilderment as to exactly what this Chelsea project is. Even with all of Liverpool’s injuries, it was startling to hear so many suggesting before kick-off that Chelsea were favourites. Memories of what they were before the Todd Boehly/Clearlake takeover perhaps linger, the realisation of how chaotic their spending has not perhaps quite sunk in – and Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, it’s true, somehow prospered despite perpetual intrigue and turmoil, as though they were some footballing version of the Borgias – but this is a side that started the day 10 places below and 25 points behind Liverpool in the Premier League table.

It’s true also that the underlying numbers suggest Chelsea are not quite as bad as their league position would imply, but there comes a point at which the actual numbers are just the numbers. The reason Chelsea score fewer goals than xG would suggest they ought to, the reason they concede more than xG would suggest they should, is that their forwards are wasteful in the opposition box and their defenders make mistakes in their own – but that’s natural for young players, lacking the experience to make the right decision and perhaps all the more so when they lack more established figures from whom to learn.

Related: Chelsea waste their chance and show again what a weird team they are | Barney Ronay

The age profile of the two XIs on the pitch at the end is instructive. Every Chelsea player was aged between 20 and 26; eight of them between 21 and 24. Liverpool still had a 31- and a 32-year-old plus two 27-year-olds and a 26-year-old to offer a structure, tactical and emotional, within which the three teenagers could thrive. Perhaps Thiago Silva was supposed to be the leader in the way that Virgil van Dijk has been, but that is a huge ask for a 39-year-old who, understandably, needs protection from players running directly at him.

But perhaps what Liverpool had above all else was a story and a narrative and a wave of emotion they could ride – and that is something that must be earned over time; it cannot simply be bought. It may be that the emotional energy of Klopp’s farewell tour cannot be sustained for another three months and that all the injuries – Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endō left Wembley on crutches to add to all the pre-existing problems – eventually place intolerable pressure on the squad. But for now Liverpool have momentum. Klopp has a trophy in his final season with the possibility of three more. There is the sense of a club driving together as one behind a revered manager.

For Chelsea, such harmony, such a sense of purpose, seems a world away.