Liverpool ready for Carling Cup final after season of ups and downs

After a season that has seen unseemly rows on and off the field and excellent away victories over Arsenal and Chelsea interspersed with disappointing home results against Blackburn and Norwich, the Carling Cup represents an opportunity for Kenny Dalglish to show his Liverpool side is on the right track.

Liverpool, without a piece of silverware since winning the FA Cup in 2006, go into the League Cup final in rude health, having shrugged off the 2-1 defeat by Manchester United in the Premier League with a 6-1 trouncing of Brighton in the FA Cup last weekend. Brighton – who beat Liverpool’s final opponents Cardiff City 3-1 in Cardiff earlier in the season – fell victim to incessant Liverpool pressure and a ruthlessness in front of goal that has been sorely lacking at times this season.

With the Reds’ two most potent attackers missing large chunks of the campaign – top scorer Luis Suarez, with 10 goals, banned for eight games and former Cardiff player Craig Bellamy, one behind the Uruguayan, unable to play consecutive games because of a knee problem – there has been a distinct lack of attacking threat from the rest of the squad. Indeed, Liverpool’s tally of 29 league goals is the fewest of any top 10 side bar Everton. But Liverpool have been prolific against lower league opposition in both cup competitions – putting eight goals past Brighton in two games, three past Exeter and five past Oldham.

While there may be problems for Dalglish to solve in front of goal, defensively Liverpool are amongst the most sound teams in the division. Only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals at home, and on their travels Liverpool have only let in two more efforts than Roberto Mancini’s league leaders. The back five of goalkeeper Pepe Reinia, right-back Glen Johnson, centre-backs Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger and left-back Jose Enrique have been one of the most solid units in the Premier League this term, although the combination of misfiring attack and watertight defence has led to the highest number of home draws in the top flight, eight. To underscore just how large that number is, the six teams above Liverpool have only registered 10 home draws combined.

Qualification for European football through the league remains a possibility for Liverpool, however. With 13 games to play the Reds are four points behind fifth-placed Chelsea and three behind Newcastle in sixth, and depending on the outcome of the FA Cup – which Liverpool remain in – sixth spot could produce a Europa League place for next season. Together with a couple of extended cup runs – and potential victories – a top six finish would likely be considered a decent outcome for Dalglish’s full-time return to management, even if a considerable amount was spent in the summer. The money splashed on the likes of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson was not however intended to produce results only in this season but also seasons to come, and the Carling Cup could prove the first triumph of Dalglish’s second coming.

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