Liverpool vs. Cardiff: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Carling Cup Final
The Reds are gunning for an eighth League Cup title, whilst the Bluebirds are in the final of the competition for the first time.
The odds may heavily favour Liverpool, who are currently seventh in the Premier League while Cardiff have not been in the top flight for 50 years.
Here are six key battles which could help determine the winner of Sunday's showpiece.
Kenny Dalglish vs. Malky Mackay
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As a player, Kenny Dalglish was part of the great Liverpool side of the late 1970s and early 1980s which, among other things, won the League Cup for four years running between 1980 and 1984.
As manager of the club, however, it is the one competition he has not brought home to Anfield.
Malky Mackay's achievements in his first season in charge of Cardiff total one Manager of the Month award, but the Bluebirds are on course for yet another playoff berth this season in the Championship under his stewardship.
The Scotsman has a win percentage of 47.5 percent from his first 40 games in charge. Can he tactically outthink King Kenny in his 41st and claim the biggest result of his managerial career?
Steven Gerrard vs. Anthony Gerrard
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Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has won six domestic trophies for his one and only club—the FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield twice each—but he has never once led his team out for a final at Wembley.
Every one of those trophies were lifted at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, used by the FA for all its finals whilst the new Wembley was being built.
On finally getting the opportunity to captain his beloved Reds at the national stadium of England, Gerrard said:
Every time I played for Liverpool at Cardiff and led the team out there, there was a bit of me thinking 'if only this was Wembley'.
Don't get me wrong, we had some great days in Cardiff and I've got some fantastic memories of playing at the Millennium Stadium, but I'd have preferred to have won those trophies at Wembley.
However, one of the men standing in his way is his younger cousin, Anthony Gerrard. The former Everton trainee is likely to come face to face with his close relation at times on the field as Steven pushes on to aid the Liverpool attack. One of those meetings could well prove to be a crucial one, both in terms of the result on the day and for bragging rights at every subsequent family get-together.
Luis Suarez vs. David Marshall
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There are many talented strikers in the Championship, but it is fair to say that Cardiff goalkeeper Marshall will not have faced any this season of the calibre of Suarez.
The Uruguayan has already proven since arriving at Liverpool little more than a year ago that he is able to get his game face on in the biggest matches for the Reds. He has a penchant for scoring in this competition, too, having netted three goals in as many games en route to Wembley.
The way that Suarez operates—surging into the box from all areas of the final third with his devilish pace and skill—means that each and every one of Cardiff's defenders are likely to be examined by him.
Marshall—who has presided over the worst defensive record among the Championship's top six clubs this season—will be the Welsh club's last line of defence. He could be in for a busy afternoon.
Glen Johnson vs. Peter Whittingham
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Over the last three years, Whittingham has been one of the most potent attacking midfielders in the Championship.
The former Aston Villa man may not have again hit the heights of his 20-goal haul the year Cardiff reached the playoff final, but he is well on course to take his league goal tally into double figures for a third successive year.
Although he plays a more central role these days, Whittingham still likes to drift wide onto his favoured left foot, where he will stray into the territory of Johnson.
The England right-back offers plenty going forward, and will look to attack Cardiff left-back Anthony Taylor at every opportunity. If Whittingham can exploit the space left by Johnson on one of his attacking forays, then his superior passing and crossing ability could be one of Cardiff's best weapons in their bid to cause an upset.
Martin Skrtel vs. Kenny Miller
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Miller is one of those strikers who seems to be stuck in a kind of purgatory. Over the course of his 15-year career he has proven himself to be a prolific goal scorer in the Championship and in the Scottish Premier League, but he has struggled in both of the seasons he has spent in England top flight.
Still, the Scotland international is certainly a goal threat, even if he has not scored in more than a month.
The 31-year-old is instinctive finisher when presented with the opportunity, and has enough experience from his much-travelled career to not be overawed by the occasion.
Skrtel is a decent centre-back, but he is prone to the odd momentary lack of judgement or loss of concentration. It will only take one such moment from the Slovakian defender to put Miller one-on-one with Pepe Reina, and that could be all it takes.
The Players vs. Wembley
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As mentioned before, this will be Liverpool's first final at Wembley since 1996, when they lost the FA Cup final to Manchester United.
Cardiff, meanwhile, only have three players still at the club who were in the squad that lost the 2008 FA Cup final to Portsmouth at the new national stadium, while another two were on the Bluebirds' payroll for the 2010 playoff final defeat to Blackpool.
While the experience of playing at Wembley will be a new one for most of the players on show come Sunday, Liverpool's generous smattering of England internationals means they will have several players who are already used to playing in front of a 90,000-strong capacity crowd at the North West London ground.
As such, it is another factor which is swayed in Liverpool's favour.