With the Carling Cup Final about to kick off, this matchup looks very lopsided at first glance. Liverpool has been playing well in this competition and has raised their overall level of play as of late. Cardiff City are coming off emotional victories throughout the competition but are still nowhere near the Reds' standard.
However, anything can happen when nerves are tense and adrenaline is running high in a championship match. Cardiff City will certainly have their passionate fans on hand cheering them on. This is a huge occasion for the Welsh club, and you can be sure many of their players have never played in a match with this much significance.
While Liverpool are rightfully considered heavy favourites, do not count out Cardiff City. They will need to play a complete game from start to finish, but after observing Liverpool’s weaknesses this season, it is possible we may all witness a huge upset.
If Cardiff are to come out victorious in the Carling Cup Final, they must execute the following three parts of their game plan:
Slow the Game Down
Liverpool will come out firing right from the opening whistle. They will want to establish themselves as the offensive team and take it to Cardiff’s defense right off the get go. Do not be surprised if they appear to be playing a 4-3-3 type formation.
In order for Cardiff to withstand the early pressure, they must slow the game down and take Liverpool out of their element. Possession within the back line and the central defensive midfield will be important early on.
Unless they give up an early goal, Cardiff should feel no pressure to move forward with any haste or hurry.
Saying that, Cardiff can not be too relaxed when the Liverpool midfield controls the ball. Closing down Gerrard is also important, and when he has possession it is no time to be playing at a slow pace. The longer Cardiff can keep the game deadlocked, the more anxious and creative Liverpool will try to play.
This response out of the Reds is just what Cardiff desires. They want Liverpool to become frustrated as the game ticks on.
Take Away Luis Suarez
To say Luis Suarez is playing with a chip on his shoulder is a huge understatement. The Uruguayan, recently off his suspension, has a lot to prove in order to win back Liverpool’s fans who are questioning his professionalism and mental focus. Having a brilliant game and securing Liverpool a much-needed piece of silverware would be the best thing to happen to Suarez.
Cardiff City must put together an outstanding defensive effort and take away Luis Suarez. He is quick, skilled and has an eye for goal. The Cardiff defenders should consider playing man to man, and even occasionally double team him. Gerrard will look to spring Suarez in on goal with precision through balls, and Cardiff must hold their line and not let the striker in behind them.
If Craig Bellamy was to come on as a substitute and score against his old team that would be tough for fans to swallow. However, with Suarez sure to be buzzing around goal from the opening whistle, the defense must shut him down and ensure he does not have a huge impact on the game.
Quality Service for Kenny Miller
Although Cardiff City will do their best to contain the Liverpool attack, if they are not able to create scoring chances for themselves, it will only be a matter of time until the Reds break through. We have witnessed many of these defensive strategies before, but Cardiff must test the Liverpool back four in order to compete.
Allowing Kenny Miller to get in the mix is vital for Cardiff. They must help their goal-scorer out by providing him with great service both on the ground and in the air. Miller has scored 10 goals in all competition this year, and will be one of the difference makers if Cardiff are to prevail as champions. He has experience playing for both of Scotland’s big clubs, and he must be a leader on the pitch come Sunday.
Even if he does not tally against Liverpool, he must give the defense a reason to be concerned and cause havoc in the box. They will be marking him closely, which is why the service in to Miller must be on time and on target. If the crosses are on point, do not be surprised if Kenny Miller buries a goal past Pepe Reina.
Chances of an Upset
If Cardiff are to be crowned champions in the Carling Cup Finals, they must execute all areas of their game plan. While Liverpool are clearly the better team on paper, what is also in their favour is the fact that there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the club.
They are likely not going to qualify for the Champions League next year, and fans are growing impatient. If they were to lose to a team like Cardiff City, the backlash on players, coaches and management would be enormous.
Cardiff must display the same desperation and motivation of their counterparts. If they can shut down the difference makers on Liverpool, and take advantage of the scoring chance they get, there is a good chance this will be competitive for 90 minutes or longer.