Up for the Cup

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-27 0:28:01

Liverpool take on Manchester City for the Capital One Cup

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City controls the ball in the Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev in Kiev, Ukraine on Wednesday. Photo: IC

In the first final of the 2015-16 English football season, Manchester City take on Liverpool in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley on Sunday. The game is Juergen Klopp's first final as Liverpool manager and may well be Manuel Pellegrini's last in the role at Manchester City, as he is leaving this summer to be replaced by Pep Guardiola. Both managers can agree that it is their best chance at silverware this season - Liverpool's league title hopes are all but over and Manchester City seem intent on allowing others to walk away with a title that they should arguably already have one hand on. City are still in the Champions League but the caliber of teams in Europe's elite club competition means.

It's taken both teams a lot of effort to get this far, particularly Liverpool. The League Cup campaign has acted as a microcosm of their season at large. Their third-round game against Carlisle United back in September went to penalties after they were held at home by the League Two side, while a 1-0 win over Bournemouth followed by a 6-1 hammering of Southampton at St Mary's ­highlighted the feel-good factor once Klopp was installed to replace Brendan Rodgers.

The semifinals showed the struggles since. Liverpool won away at Stoke City but were beaten 1-0 in the return leg at Anfield and edged penalties to make it to ­Wembley. City, on the other hand, cruised to the semis with a 4-1 win over Sunderland, 5-1 win over Crystal Palace and another 4-1 over Hull City. The Blues lost 2-1 away to Everton in the first leg of the semi but triumphed 3-1 at home to make another date with destiny at Wembley.

Hitting form

City go into the final coming on the back of their most impressive result of the season, beating Dynamo Kiev 3-1 away in the Champions League. The result, and the team that did it, which was as close to a full-strength 11 as Pellegrini has been able to field this campaign, justified the Chilean's decision to sacrifice the FA Cup by playing a fledgling team away to Chelsea last Sunday. Crucially, not only does he have close to his best team back in contention but they have an extra day to prepare for the final than their rivals. That's because Liverpool were in action at home to Augsburg in Germany in a Europa League round of 32 second leg. Whatever the result, Liverpool will have wanted to win the game going into it to keep the dream of a trophy - if not a pair - alive in Klopp's debut season. Winning the Europa League is the club's only real hope of getting a place in next season's Champions League. Klopp knows this and promised to play the best team he had available against the German visitors on Thursday. Two season defining games in such quick succession are not what Klopp would have wanted, especially with players such as Martin Skrtel, Danny Ings, Joe Allen, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez and Philippe Coutinho either out injured or struggling for fitness.

City are not without their own injury problems, though, and star signing Kevin de Bruyne is out for the season. Both sets of fans will be delighted that their talismanic oft-crocked strikers are back to match fitness and, more importantly, among the goals. Sturridge scored for Liverpool in their recent Premier League victory over Aston Villa while Sergio Aguero was on the score sheet against Dynamo in midweek. Pellegrini has selection problems for another reason, having promised to stick with second-choice ­goalkeeper Willy Caballero for the final having used him throughout the competition. First-choice ­stopper Joe Hart is fit and available, and ­Caballero's last appearance for the Blues saw him pick the ball out of the net five times as they crashed out of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.


This is Liverpool's record 12th appearance in the League Cup final and they will be focused on extending their record eight wins to nine. Manchester City have won the competition three times. Adding to the record books is not likely to be the driving force when it comes to kickoff on Sunday. City's players will remember that it was the League Cup that inspired them to the Premier League title when they last won it in 2014. The 3-1 victory over Sunderland in the final sparked a comeback that saw them overtake Liverpool to clinch the championship in the final game of the campaign. Liverpool's fans will remember how close they came to that league title, which would have ended a wait since 1989, and hope their team can exact revenge on the Manchester side.

If that campaign was not enough reason to expect fireworks then ­Raheem Sterling's ­summer move from Anfield to the Etihad still sticks in the craw of ­Liverpool fans. The England winger did not handle the transfer as he might have done and that left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Kop faithful. They'd delight in nothing more than seeing their side lift some silverware at the expense of their former star. His ex-teammates will be amply motivated and want to prove that he was wrong to want away by coming out on top at Wembley.

This is a battle between two of the biggest names in English football and a good game could go a long way to helping the public forget that the League Cup has come to be regarded as a poor relation. Roll on kickoff.

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