Liverpool V Cardiff: Picking a Reds Starting 11 for the Carling Cup Final
This also happens to be the Reds’ first Wembley appearance since their losing effort against Manchester United in the final of the 1995-96 FA Cup.
This is a big occasion for Kenny Dalglish, and he will be under great pressure to deliver the goods.
In only his first full season in charge, since returning to take over the managerial reins from Roy Hodgson back in January 2011, Dalglish has lead the Reds to their first competitive tournament final since the 2007 UEFA Champions League.
Cardiff City, on the other hand, are much more familiar with the Wembley atmosphere. This is the Bluebirds’ fourth Wembley appearance in as many years.
The last time that they were here they lost to Swansea in the championship playoff final.
Anyway, the one thing that Kenny Dalglish and his boys need to keep in mind is to never underestimate the opponent’s strength.
Sure, Cardiff City players may have the big final nerves playing against a club of the stature of Liverpool. But then again, Liverpool too have many inexperienced heads in the squad, and that means something of a headache for Dalglish when selecting the lineup.
John Aldridge sums up the tricky task that Kenny has in his hands quite simply.
Needless to say, I’m in a spot of bother as well now that I'm B/R’s version of Kenny Dalglish!
Let’s take a look at the list of players who could make the starting 11 for the showpiece event on Sunday…
Was there going to be any doubt over this selection?
Pepe Reina has successfully managed to keep Alexander Doni away from the posts so far this season.
But isn’t that what happens when you are a class act?
Reina will undoubtedly take guard at the Wembley as Doni continues to warm his regular spot on the bench.
This will only be Reina’s third major final appearance in a Liverpool shirt.
And he would definitely want it to be a memorable one.
I’m sorry folks, but this is where the tricky part begins.
Martin Kelly is a strong contender for the spot, but will he have impressed Dalglish enough to guarantee him a spot over Johnson? I doubt it.
Agreed, Kelly was a decisive factor in Liverpool’s progress in the Carling Cup, including his goal-scoring effort against Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge, but I believe Dalglish is going to go for the experienced England full-back.
I feel so bad for Kelly now that I’ve dropped him three days before the big game.
Again, this is a spot which doesn’t require much deliberation.
The Spanish international has worked his way up and become close to an indispensable name in only his first season with the Reds.
Part of it is due to the fact that Jose Enrique has no real competition for his position.
A situation also helped by the fact that Fabio Aurelio has been really unfortunate with injuries this season.
Nevertheless, we will see him making those confident dribbles down the left flank at the Wembley and play a major role in the Liverpool defence against any Cardiff counterattack.
Can you say, "NO?" I don’t think so.
Carra has already witnessed the tide turn on his career at Liverpool as he lost his regular starting berth to the Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger combo earlier in the season.
The veteran, however, has started in the League Cup more frequently.
He had also partnered alongside Sebastian Coates in a few of the fixtures.
But this is going to be one difficult decision for Dalglish.
Does he go for his most experienced defender or will he choose to play the Agger-Skrtel combo?
However, what is certain is that Kenny need not think twice on trusting Carra to step up to the task. He has always done that.
What we can be certain of is that, if selected, there is no doubt that Carra will do anything to assure a victory for Liverpool Football Club.
If Carragher does get the nod, then my top choice to partner him would be this man.
Martin Skrtel, simply put, has been Liverpool’s most improved player this season.
The Slovakian has gone from strength to strength strongly, proving his cause as to why he deserves the Jamie Carragher throne.
Besides, Carra and Skrtel would just be rock solid at the back, severely restricting Cardiff from any close chances.
Agreed, choosing this pair would mean that all the forward action will have to flow from the midfield, as neither player possesses the attacking instincts of Daniel Agger.
But Skrtel is much more of a threat from set-piece situations as he proved once again during the Reds’ outing against Brighton in the FA Cup when he headed home the opener.
So then, that completes the Liverpool defence.
Centre Midfield—Charlie Adam
The reason I chose to pair Skrtel and Carragher together was probably because of Charlie Adam.
Although the Scotsman has improved greatly this season, his defending still carries a big question mark around with it.
Charlie Adam’s role is simple. Pass, lob, hold it up and strike.
Replacing Adam with Jay Spearing or Jordan Henderson would be pointless to the cause.
Adding Jay Spearing would mean Liverpool’s formation becomes ultra-defensive, which is not what we want.
Jordan Henderson can play the sub role, filling in for Adam on the big day.
Centre Midfield—Steven Gerrard
The Liverpool captain is an automatic choice for any major game.
Liverpool supporters will never lose count over the number of times their talismanic skipper has rescued them from the jaws of certain defeat.
He has always been the man to rely on, and this time isn’t going to be any different.
Although, one marked difference will be that he will have extra defensive duties to make up for Charlie Adam’s shortcomings.
But Stevie G has always been up to the task and we can expect another captain’s performance from this Liverpool native.
Left Midfield—Craig Bellamy
Craig Bellamy is fit and raring to go. So why tame him?
The Welsh winger is more likely to start the game against his hometown club, and we can be sure of it because he is already talking celebrations.
Bellamy’s pace will be instrumental in taking the attack to the opposition.
Besides, Bellamy’s inclusion will balance out Steven Gerrard’s limited involvement in attacking foreplay, should the Liverpool skipper start in a deeper role.
Bellamy will also be a decent threat on goal going forward and the Cardiff full-backs should find it hard to mark the diminutive winger if Liverpool field an attacking trio upfront.
Although I feel the next man on this slideshow should start on the left side, Kenny will probably opt to play Bellamy on the wrong side as he has scored a lot of goals from that position.
Right Midfield—Stewart Downing
Selecting the right-side midfielder is another one of the headaches for Kenny Dalglish.
He has got the right-side regular Dirk Kuyt in his squad fully fit and raring to go.
Having said that, it is a bit of a gamble to play Stewart Downing over the hardworking Dutchman, but it may well be worth a shot.
Agreed, he has been woeful with his league form and has had a below-average season with Liverpool, in terms of overall contribution to the club’s successes.
But he displayed a spirited and confident performance against Brighton last week.
As I’ve always maintained, there is nothing worse than destroying the confidence of a player.
If Kenny chooses to bench him, he might as well look for a new winger in the summer window because it’s really now or never for Downing.
But playing him on the right side won’t do much good to the player as well. So it’s up to Kenny to decide on the wings for Downing and Bellamy.
If he intends to play Bellamy as the attacker of the two, then his best bet is to start Dirk Kuyt on the right side.
Second Striker—Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez is a confirmed starter for the big showdown.
He had a penalty saved by—the otherwise clueless on that day—Brighton keeper, Peter Brezovan.
Not too much to worry about there as he soon followed it up with a close-range headed goal to complete Liverpool’s rout.
The good thing for Luis Suarez is that he has moved on from the Patrice Evra episode.
The bad thing, however, is that little troubles continue to pop up.
However, it will be great if he manages to shrug off all that and concentrate on the task at hand and set the ball rolling with this man…
Striker/Centre Forward—Andy Carroll
Of course, Liverpool fans should be thrilled with the fact that Andy Carroll has finally started to make progress and steer clear of comparisons linking him with Fernando Torres.
Andy Carroll, eight goals in 40 appearances, is only a tad better than Fernando Torres who has five goals in his 47 Chelsea appearances.
But if you had watched the both play over the last couple of months, you’d have no doubt as to who has improved the most.
It is Andy Carroll.
The ex-Newcastle man has managed to come out of a cocoon period and is starting to gain the trust of supporters on account of his above-average displays in the past month.
He has remained confident and hopeful over his form and fitness. And it has started to yield results in some fashion.
Andy Carroll can now run, pass, tackle, score and even set up a teammate as he did with Luis Suarez against Brighton and Dirk Kuyt against Man U.
Kenny Dalglish should believe in the big man and start him more often alongside Luis Suarez to make this pair a deadly one.
But for now, Wembley here we come!
What do you think about the list? Who do you think have a better chance of winning the Carling Cup Final? Let me know via your comments.
And if you have the extra minute, please read—