Can Steven Gerrard point the way to Carling Cup glory for Liverpool?
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Rewind a decade or so and Liverpool, the League Cup final and Cardiff were common bedfellows. As Wembley underwent a painful process of rebuilding, the Welsh capital’s Millennium Stadium was a surrogate home for English football finals. Liverpool visited Cardiff three times in 2001, winning the League Cup, FA Cup and Community Shield in short succession, and they returned in 2003 to beat Manchester United in this competition’s finale.
“Tell me ma, me ma, to put the champagne on ice, we’re going to Cardiff twice,” has reverted to its original lyric as a victory in the FA Cup quarter-final will see Liverpool visiting the new-ish stadium multiple times. Yet this is their first visit to a stadium reopened in 2007, and their fans’ first trot down Wembley way since 1996 and the infamous “White Suits” FA Cup final they lost to Manchester United.
Meanwhile, their opponents are comparable old stagers at the ‘new’ Wembley, having visited twice when FA Cup runners-up in 2008, and then as losing finalists to Blackpool in the Championship Play-Off final of 2010. Cardiff City’s presence here reflects a renaissance in Welsh football, and a win on this occasion would surely trump Swansea City’s adventures in the Premier League.
Their boss, Malky Mackay, is another man from the Glaswegian conveyor belt of football managers. Since taking over last June from Dave Jones, he has impressed with his refreshment of a club that had suffered one near-miss too many. City are in a play-off position, and Mackay has led Cardiff to their first final in this competition in its history. Since defeating Crystal Palace on penalties in the semi-final, Cardiff’s league results have been indifferent, performances looking distracted in the light of Wembley beckoning, though they perhaps share distraction with their opponents.
Kenny Dalglish and co have been frying other fish, of course, but the knock-out competitions have provided welcome respite in view of the Luis Suarez affair and a failure to impose themselves on the race for a Champions League place. The elder of the Glasgow mafia members here has the chance to win his first trophy as Liverpool manager since the First Division title of 1990. Indeed, victory on Sunday would complete a sweep of all the domestic trophies for Dalglish, as he failed to lift it during his Mark 1 regime. He has lost a League Cup final before, to Arsenal in 1987, so has a chance to heal an old wound.
A trophy lifted by Liverpool with Dalglish as manager will be received with unbridalled joy by those fans who will always idolise him. Mackay meanwhile can make himself a similar godhead at his own club if he can land its first major trophy since 1927. Back then, the Bluebirds took the FA Cup out of England for the first time. The League Cup has only ever been out of England to be competed for in Cardiff. City could take the trophy back to their nation on a more permanent basis but to do so must beat a team and manager with their own history to bury.
Cardiff City player to watch: Another Scot seeking his fortune in the English leagues, Kenny Miller has had to fill the shooting boots of Craig Bellamy and Jay Bothroyd at the Cardiff City Stadium, and after an injury-hit start had begun to do just that before hitting a flat spot as January turned to February. Having played in major cup finals for both Rangers and Celtic, during a peripatetic career, as well as being Scotland’s main striker for some time, Miller will use his vast experience to lead the line.
Liverpool player to watch: If things had worked out differently, then Bellamy may have been running out for his boyhood club, though he also had a childhood affinity for Liverpool too. Last season saw him exiled from Manchester City and the Premier League to Cardiff, and they lost out in the play-offs when a hamstrung Bellamy was missing. A fairytale was denied before Bellamy got a dream return to Anfield. He has been perhaps Liverpool’s most influential player when Suarez has been absent. Should he score, most likely as a substitute, then has promised not to celebrate a goal against a club he may still have unfinished business with.
Key battle: Anthony Gerrard was once part of an internet hoax that saw cousin Steven ‘outed’ as a childhood Evertonian when in fact the picture was of his younger cousin. Anthony may not possess the star quality of Steven but he has carved out a decent career in the lower leagues after being released by Everton. He has had to fight hard to gain a place at centre-back once Mackay replaced Dave Jones, and now gets the chance to face his superstar cousin, who may well be used in more attacking role. The pair can play out for real the childhood fantasy matches they once staged in their grandmother’s back garden.
Trivia: When Dalglish’s Liverpool lost the 1987 final to Arsenal, it was the first match that Liverpool had lost in which Ian Rush had scored. Rush, already headed for Juventus that summer, opened the scoring before two Charlie Nicholas goals won it for the Gunners to make 1986-7 a trophyless season for the Reds.
Stats: Liverpool have won the most League Cups since its inception in 1960, seven in total. They won four in a row between 1981-4 under Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, before a Steve McManaman double gave Roy Evans’ team the trophy in 1995. The twin Cardiff triumphs in 2001 and 2003 came under the aegis of Gerard Houllier.
Odds: A Cardiff win in normal time is on offer at mighty 8/1, the game going to extra-time is 7/2 and the Liverpool win is an odds-on 4/11. Liverpool are 1/6 to lift the trophy and Cardiff are 9/2 at bet365.
Prediction: A Liverpool win in extra time to shred the nerves and disappoint the romantics.