The first trophy of the English season is up for grabs and you can watch the final live on Sky Sports Football. We ask the big questions ahead of the clash between Liverpool and Chelsea
By Chris Miller, Writer
This season the final of the EFL Cup, aka the Carabao Cup, returns to its traditional place in the calendar on the final weekend of February, as more than 80,000 fans descend on Wembley for the big occasion. With 13 wins between them, Liverpool and Chelsea are two of the most successful clubs in the history of this competition, and both are gunning to add to their total in 2022.
How big a game is it? Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher, who won the trophy three times, said of this year’s final: “We’re talking about two of the best teams in the world going head to head. This final has all the makings of a brilliant game.” We absolutely agree – so here’s our guide to the key players, decisions and stats that might decide the destination of the cup…
Which team are in the best form?
Domestically, Liverpool. They shrugged off the loss of key players to the Africa Cup of Nations to maintain a successful run of results throughout January and February, and although Arsenal put up a resolute defence in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final at Anfield after a red card, Liverpool raised their game and ran out comfortable 2-0 winners at the Emirates to reach the final. They’re ahead of Chelsea in the Premier League, where the Londoners’ talented squad have had a fair few draws recently.
On the other hand, Chelsea are the European champions and have just claimed the FIFA Club World Cup, overcoming two other continental champs in a tough midseason tournament in the UAE – an impressive accomplishment. They’re a powerful, resilient side who’ve got used to winning trophies.
How important is this cup to the teams?
The Carabao Cup is sometimes dismissed as a second-rate competition that the top clubs don’t care about. Someone ought to tell the top clubs, then: Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd have won 15 of the last 17 cups, and more often than not they’ve had to beat another member of the “big six” in the final. Sure, they use the early rounds as a chance to blood young players but, considering their record of success, that’s testimony to the strength of their squads these days.
Is there more at stake than the trophy?
A place in the UEFA Europa Conference League will not interest either of these teams, who are focused on qualifying for the Champions League, while the prize money of £100,000 won’t make much difference to their bottom line. But you know what? Cup finals don’t come around every day.
Every player on both teams will be desperate to add a medal to their collection, as will the coaches, neither of whom have won the League Cup – and besides, the thousands of fans in the stadium (and millions more watching on TV) will be urging their favourites on and dreaming of that shiny, shiny trophy. And with both sides mounting up for a Premier League title challenge in the coming months, striking a blow at this stage could have a real impact on their confidence and belief.
How did the teams get here?
Chelsea had a tricky path to the final, drawing Premier League opposition in every round. After penalty shoot-out wins against Southampton and Aston Villa, they needed a late own goal and a penalty to get past west London neighbours Brentford before cruising past Spurs 3-0 on aggregate in the semi-final, with defender Antonio Rüdiger imperious throughout both legs.
Liverpool saw off Premier League strugglers Norwich and Championship Preston, and then were involved in arguably the most memorable game of this season’s cup: they went 2-0 and 3-1 down at home to Leicester before a stoppage-time equaliser from Takumi Minamino took it to penalties, which they won to progress to that semi against Arsenal. Minamino has played in every round and scored four goals – could he be the Wembley hero?
What are the key decisions for the coaches?
All thoughts of giving inexperienced teenagers a Carabao run-out are gone by the final, when fans will expect to see the best available line-up. Goalkeeper is the position where perhaps the most intrigue lies. Jürgen Klopp has picked back-up keeper Caoimhín Kelleher for most of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup run and indicated that he will stick with the 23-year-old for the final. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga deputised successfully for Édouard Mendy for a month while the Senegalese was away winning the Africa Cup Of Nations – but Thomas Tuchel usually favours Mendy, especially for the big games.
Tuchel must also decide whether to stick with the formation he chose to take on Liverpool in January: high wing-backs and a narrow front three, aiming to pin back the Reds’ attacking full-backs and put pressure on the midfield and central defenders. Liverpool did go two-nil up thanks to the excellent movement of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, who both scored, but Chelsea controlled possession and claimed a deserved draw. For their part, Liverpool will look to exploit the space between the Blues’ midfield and defence. It promises to be a fascinating tactical battle.
Anything else that can help predict the winner?
Well, if you’re into this kind of thing, there are omens in the appointment of ref Stuart Attwell. He has refereed 15 Liverpool games, of which they’ve won nine and lost only one. In contrast, Chelsea have won only four of their 14 games with Attwell in the middle, and he sent off Cesar Azpilicueta in their defeat to Aston Villa last season. Hardly scientific evidence, perhaps – but it’s the sort of thing that can give a psychological edge…
How do I watch the Carabao Cup final on Virgin TV?
You can see it on Sunday 27 February at 3.30pm on Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503).
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