The prize up for grabs
So, after a 6-1 slaughtering of Brighton to take Liverpool into the FA Cup Quarterfinals, Kenny Dalglish’s men will be turning their attentions to Wembley this Sunday to contest the Carling Cup Final against Cardiff City.
Two historical moments are already on the agenda: a first ever appearance by a Welsh club in the League Cup Final, a first ever trip to New Wembley for Liverpool.
But as Steven Gerrard leads out his Liverpool teammates against Cardiff’s Peter Whittingham (if Mark Hudson and Stephen McPhail both fail to return from injury), what else should we look forward to on Sunday?
Here are ten predictions—some bold, some not as bold—ahead of the Cardiff-Liverpool Carling Cup Final clash, and feel free to share yours in the comments below.
More of the same please, Luis
Here’s a shocker right off the bat: Luis Suarez doesn’t cause any trouble at Wembley.
Okay, this might have been written with tongue slightly in cheek, but the reality is that Suarez will have plenty to prove to both English (and worldwide) audiences and to his own club.
In the wake of his recent controversies, what better for Suarez to concentrate on playing football and showcasing his talents on the pitch?
It’s time for Suarez to let his feet do the talking—and it might very well happen at Wembley on Sunday.
Maxi celebrates his strike against Chelsea in the League Cup
Considering Kenny Dalglish’s insistence on denying Maxi Rodriguez any sort of decent playing time this season, perhaps this is right at the top of the Bold Predictions list.
But given Maxi’s well-known track record of scoring important goals, will Dalglish finally relent and return Maxi to the starting lineup?
His role in vanquishing Chelsea in the earlier rounds will not have gone unnoticed, and Dalglish might just grant him a starting place out of sentiment, if not out of ability.
Look for this on Sunday
He may never justify his £35 million price tag, but could it be that Andy Carroll is actually a decent striker?
The skeptics are still looking for any unpolished parts of his game, but no one can deny that he has stepped up his performances since the turn of the year.
His fine finish and all-round energetic performance against Brighton in the FA Cup Fifth Round was a reflection and continuation of this very improvement.
And he will extend his recent form with a goal in the first showpiece event on the English domestic calendar.
Could this partnership actually work?
Here’s a bolder prediction still: Could it be that Stewart Downing is actually a half-decent footballer?
In the eyes of the cynics (and perhaps the regular fans as well by now), Downing has done virtually nothing to justify his own massive price tag of £20 million—and his much-publicized nightmare at Old Trafford will live long in the memory.
But he’s always proved his mettle against lower league clubs.
He scored his long-overdue first Liverpool goal against Oldham a few weeks ago, while he claimed his first official assist in a Red shirt against Brighton only this past Sunday.
Who’s to say that Carroll’s expected goal against Cardiff won’t come from a Downing cross?
Bellamy in Cardiff colors
Given Craig Bellamy’s contributions last season with Cardiff City, his obvious affections for the club and his exploits with Liverpool this year, we should expect him to be involved at some stage of the game.
And when he does get involved, he will make a telling impact.
Bellamy’s pace has troubled many Premier League defences this season, while his finishing has earned some much-needed results for Kenny Dalglish.
Don’t bet against a similar impact against Cardiff—especially since he has a habit of scoring against his old clubs.
Cardiff on a set piece
All of a sudden, Liverpool have become quite dangerous from corner kicks.
With Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger having netted in recent weeks, and with Andy Carroll’s considerable aerial ability, Liverpool’s threat from corners is there for all to see.
With Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam, they also pose a danger from freekicks.
At the same time, we have witnessed some defensive lapses from Dalglish’s charges this season, and in Peter Whittingham, Cardiff have among their ranks one of the finest strikers of a set piece in the Championship.
With so many set piece options, don’t rule out a goal from a freekick or a corner.
Cardiff's Peter Whittingham
Since signing for Cardiff in 2007, Peter Whittingham has been nothing short of a revelation.
He has averaged a goal in every four league games for the Bluebirds, while this season he already has nine strikes to his name (10 in all competitions)—just over one in three.
While his set piece prowess and powerful long-range shooting was evident even during his days at Aston Villa, he has found his feet at the Championship level, adding a consistency to his game which makes him a primary weapon for Malky McKay’s men.
He will provide a stern test for Liverpool’s Pepe Reina.
Anthony Gerrard: Up against more famous cousin Steven
The clash of the Gerrards is another storyline in this season’s final.
As his more famous cousin Steven has grabbed all the Gerrard family limelight in his illustrious Liverpool career, Anthony Gerrard has worked hard in the lower levels of the English game.
In the absence of regular captain and central defender Mark Hudson, Anthony Gerrard has forged a solid defensive partnership with Ben Turner at the back.
And in their game of the season so far, Anthony Gerrard will do the Gerrard name no shame with an admirable shift in the heart of the Cardiff defence.
Cardiff celebrate their penalty shootout win in the Carling Cup semifinal
In recent seasons, Cardiff have launched genuine attempts at earning promotion from the Championship.
Many even predicted that they would have become the first Welsh team in the English Premier League, but unfortunately for the Bluebirds, Swansea pipped them to that honor in 2011.
While Cardiff have been on an inconsistent run of form recently, a solid performance against Liverpool might just set them on their way to finally gaining that promotion spot.
Sunday’s Carling Cup Final will be the perfect stage for Cardiff to show England what they are about, and to show England that they have what it takes to play in the Premier League.
Will Gerrard lead the post-match celebrations at Wembley?
Alas, a decent performance from Cardiff will not be enough to secure a first League Cup for a Welsh team.
Liverpool featured in a few eye-catchingly terrible performances against lower league opposition in the domestic cups under the recent reigns of Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson, but Kenny Dalglish seems to have reversed that trend this season.
As Liverpool continue their search for an elusive League title, they have been branded “cup specialists” and they have proven their quality in one-off matches in recent years.
With Suarez, Carroll and Gerrard likely to start their second game together on the back of several encouraging results, and given the inconsistency that has plagued Cardiff of late, it will be hard to look past Liverpool as the winners this weekend.
Barring a major upset—a prediction too bold even for this article—Steven Gerrard will get his hands on Liverpool’s eighth League Cup.
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