1722: Carling Cup final preview: Liv
by : Stephen Orford
The first silverware of the 2004/05 season is up for grabs tomorrow afternoon (February 26) as Liverpool face-off with Chelsea in the Carling Cup final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Both sides will be expected to field rather stronger line-ups than have been seen in previous rounds as the prospect of picking up a first trophy in English football looms large for both managers.
The Reds will be going for a record eighth League Cup win, with the last of these coming in 2003 when they defeated Manchester United. To achieve this they will face the sternest test imaginable against a recently wounded Chelsea outfit. Jose Mourinho’s men have been having their problems of late, with FA Cup defeat at Newcastle followed by a controversial Champions League reverse in the Nou Camp against Barcelona. Mourinho’s disgust and subsequent refusal to speak to the media following the Barcelona game has been well documented, but he now faces the task of putting all of that behind him and concentrating on the task in hand.
Standing in his way will be an increasingly desperate Liverpool side. Despite a solid Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen the Anfield club have laboured in the Premiership, and may yet need to pick up the Carling Cup to guarantee their own European qualification for next season. However, more important to them, and to first-year manager Rafa Benitez will be the opportunity to put a record 42nd piece of silverware into the Anfield trophy cabinet.
They won’t have a better opportunity to beat Chelsea than at this stage of the season. Not only are they below their peak in terms of morale following their recent losses, they also have an injury list to rival even that of Liverpool at various times this season. Star turn Arjen Robben continues to be absent from the side, as does broken ankle victim Wayne Bridge, along with Robert Huth and Scott Parker. There are also doubts about the fitness of defender William Gallas. Should he fail to make it, expect to see Glen Johnson brought in to play right-back, with Paulo Ferreira drafted in at left-back.
The good news for Chelsea is that both Didier Drogba and Damien Duff are expected to be fit despite recent injury worries. Petr Cech continues in goal after the unfortunate Carlo Cudicini picked up a suspension following his red card against Newcastle United. Mourinho had promised the Italian a start in the showpiece, but the club eventually decided not to appeal against Cudicini’s ban.
Liverpool will welcome back Steven Gerrard after the England man missed the win over Bayer Leverkusen through suspension. Also available for selection are Fernando Morientes and Mauricio Pellegrino, both of whom were cup-tied for the Champions League fixture. However, Liverpool too have their fare share of injury absentees with Djibril Cisse, Xabi Alonso and Florent Sinama Pongolle all ruled out for the foreseeable future.
Despite a series of glaring howlers this season, Jerzy Dudek looks set to continue in goal for Liverpool. Dudek is the only man from either side to have appeared in all of the previous rounds of the competition, such is the level of tinkering on show in the Carling Cup these days. In front of him, the only absentee from Liverpool’s first-choice back four should be Josemi, who still has not recovered from head and groin injuries.
The styles of both teams suggest a cagey affair, and Chelsea’s superior defensive qualities should make them a slight favourite with most observers. The battle for midfield supremacy between Gerrard and Frank Lampard will prove vital, but with talent like Baros, Morientes, Kewell, Drogba, Duff, Cole and Gudjohnsen on show, there are more than enough potential match-winners around.
The teams have already met twice in the league, with Chelsea coming out on top 1-0 on both occasions, with Joe Cole scoring the winner each time. Steve Bennett takes charge of this clash, for which the stadium roof will be closed. An all-new football will be used, the design of which sees the names of all previous winners stitched into the leather. Even Luton Town.
Chelsea will be going for a third League Cup win, having won the trophy last in 1998 when they beat Middlebrough 2-0 in the final. Should they win, it will be the 10th trophy that they have won in their history. With their current squad depth, shrewd if slightly sulky and cocky coach, and financial wealth there is the promise of many more in the near future. Perhaps not this weekend though, as at prediction time this not at all biased writer is going to stick his neck out and predict the continuation of Chelsea’s minor blip.
Verdict; Liverpool to sneak it 1-0, with Sami Hyypia, Dietmar Hamann and Igor Biscan picking up a record-equalling third League Cup winners medal for a foreign player, Bruce Grobbelaar being the current record holder of that distinction.