It promises to be a titanic tussle at Wembley on Sunday afternoon as Jurgen Klopp aims to win his first trophy as Liverpool boss as they contest the Capital One Cup final with Manchester City, who are looking to win the competition for the second time in three years.
Success in 2014 was Manuel Pellegrini’s maiden piece of silverware at City and this one could well be his last, as it has already been confirmed that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season. Currently fourth in the Premier League, and not among the favourites in the Champions League despite an impressive performance in midweek, it certainly represents the best chance for the Chilean as he aims to go out on something of a high.
As for Liverpool, it has been a hugely indifferent season as consistency has proved thin on the ground and results have been patchy to say the least, but the signs are that Klopp will slowly but surely guide them back to loftier heights. Victory here would cement that belief, and represent the club’s first trophy since 2012, while continuing their sensational record in this competition which they have already won on eight previous occasions, more than anybody else.
Both sides needed some luck on the way to reaching this final, with the Reds taken to penalties by League Two outfit Carlisle United in round three and then a shoddy performance in the second leg of their semi-final almost seeing them lose out to Stoke City before a shootout rescued them again. Man City enjoyed more serene progress right up until the last four, where the highly controversial award of a goal in their second leg with Everton turned the tie in their favour.
When the sides met in the Premier League earlier on in the season, it was Liverpool who triumphed at the Etihad Stadium in a performance full of pace and incision as they capitalised on an error-strewn showing from the Man City defence, who that day were without captain Vincent Kompany. The Belgian’s presence could have a say in deciding the outcome here, but he will still have a very dangerous front-three to deal with in the shape of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and former teammate Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge is one of several players here in line to feature against their former club, with Kolo Toure having the potential to engage in a family affair with brother Yaya, while James Milner will definitely put his usually hefty shift in against the side where he twice won the Premier League title. The most intriguing reunion, however, concerns Raheem Sterling, who seems inevitable to be right in the thick of the action. Coming off the back of one of his displays so far for City in Kiev on Wednesday, the 21-year-old will be hoping to defy those Liverpool supporters who feel bitterness towards him following his big-money move last summer.
Pellegrini will have been delighted with what he saw from his team in Kiev, especially after a run of three straight defeats in all competitions, so if they can maintain that level of intensity they will stand a great chance of winning this final. Liverpool got through their Europa League clash with Augsburg on Thursday unscathed, and they are used to playing with great intensity, so in spite of the fact that there are nine points and four places separating the sides in the league, this one looks too close to call. It will likely come down to which team copes better defensively.
Dejan Lovren could be back for Liverpool, who are still unable to call upon Joe Allen, Adam Lallana and Martin Skrtel although they are not too far away from regaining fitness.
Man City are boosted by the return of Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala and Jesus Navas for their trip to the borough of Brent, but Kevin De Bruyne, Samir Nasri and Fabian Delph are all absent.