Thomas Tuchel dropped to his knees, repeatedly pounding his fists against the Wembley turf, believing Chelsea’s moment of redemption had arrived amid the turmoil of this turbulent season.
The Chelsea boss braced himself for the worst as Sadio Mane stepped forward to take the penalty that would have won the FA Cup for Liverpool, but it was saved by Senegal teammate Edouard Mendy.
Tuchel rose to his feet and punched the air, only to feel punched in the stomach moments later when Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson saved Mason Mount’s penalty, leaving substitute Kostas Tsimikas to finish the job for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Chelsea’s painful history was repeated. They went toe-to-toe with Liverpool at Wembley, just as they did in the EFL Cup final in February, only for penalties to separate both clubs once more.
Tuchel bowed his head as he ascended the Wembley steps to accept another loser’s medal following an eventful final that ended Chelsea’s hopes of winning one of the four major trophies.
Chelsea have been through a lot this season, both on and off the field, and despite a likely place in next season’s Champions League as a reward for their efforts, there is an unmistakable sense that the winds of change will soon be blowing through Stamford Bridge.
Todd Boehly will take over as Chelsea’s new owner, succeeding Roman Abramovich, who single-handedly funded the club’s success before being sanctioned and effectively forced to sell up due to alleged links with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It will be a different ownership model, not just beholden to the whims and demands of one man, which is good news for Tuchel because a season without one of those four trophies invariably results in a very stringent examination from Abramovich – even after winning the Champions League eleven months ago.
Of course, Boehly will be completely correct to stick with Tuchel, an outstanding manager who was also a dignified front man for Chelsea when the club’s future was in doubt and Abramovich’s time in charge was coming to an end.
Tuchel has issues to address on the field, and all eyes will be on Boehly to see how he will navigate and finance Chelsea into the new era.
Anthony Rudiger, the club’s defensive rock, is off to Real Madrid, while their outstanding captain Cesar Azpilicueta may also be on his way out, and another defender, Andreas Christensen, is off to Barcelona.
Tuchel has some fine players to work with and a burgeoning academy, as Conor Gallagher’s success on loan at Crystal Palace demonstrated, but big personalities and top-class players must be replaced – all on the back of a season that must be viewed as a disappointment in terms of trophies.
The absence of Kai Havertz due to a hamstring injury, followed by striker Timo Werner reporting a similar problem in the warm-up and feeling he couldn’t play, didn’t help the German manager’s cause.
This season, Chelsea won the Club World Cup and the Uefa Super Cup, but these are minor awards in comparison to the major trophies that have been arriving at Stamford Bridge on a regular basis in recent years.
The biggest conundrum may well revolve around striker Romelu Lukaku, who was given a starting spot at Wembley but did nothing to dispel the growing suspicion that his £97.5 million move from Inter Milan to Chelsea last summer was doomed to fail.