Liverpool Win Carling Cup: 5 Things We Learned in Epic Wembley Final
Liverpool clocked up a record eighth League Cup success with a 3-2 penalty shootout victory over Cardiff City at Wembley in the Carling Cup Final, after a thrilling game which swung back and forth throughout the 120 minutes and ensuing spot-kick drama.
After bossing the early stages, including seeing a Glen Johnson shot hit the bar after one minute, Liverpool fell behind to Joe Mason's cool finish through the legs of Pepe Reina.
Shots rained down on Tom Heaton's goal, but between him and his defenders, he kept the Reds out with a series of blocks and saves.
Martin Skrtel eventually equalised as he reacted first to Luis Suarez's header which hit the post, but there were no further goals in the 90 minutes and extra time was required.
Substitute Dirk Kuyt put Liverpool ahead for the first time in the additional 30 minutes, and the same player cleared off the line two minutes before the end as it seemed the Reds were in touching distance of the trophy.
Ben Turner, however, scored with Cardiff's next attack to force penalties and prolong the agony.
After Steven Gerrard, Kenny Miller and Charlie Adam all missed, both teams found their shooting boots and traded successful penalties. But after Glen Johnson scored Liverpool's fifth, Anthony Gerrard shot wide for Cardiff, and the Reds were the winners.
Here are five things we learned after an epic and wonderfully eventful League Cup Final.
Liverpool Back Amongst the Trophies, Kenny Dalglish's Team Selections Justified
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Back in August, when Liverpool started their League Cup adventure with an away trip to Exeter City, Kenny Dalglish was hit with some strange criticism from some quarters after naming a strong team, including Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina and new signings Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson.
"The kids should be playing," brayed some mainstream media, clearly missing the names of Academy graduates Jon Flanagan, Jack Robinson and Jay Spearing in the line-up.
"Suarez should be rested," hollered others, avoiding the issue of the Uruguayan having netted his third goal in as many games as he started the season on fire.
Kenny Dalglish fielded a strong side with the intention of taking the competition seriously and giving his team a chance to win a competition he respected immensely, having won it himself four times consecutively in the 1980s.
At Wembley, Dalglish was fully vindicated as his team picked up an eighth League Cup trophy having seen off the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City along the way, as well as a couple of lower-league sides, all of whom faced similarly strong Reds lineups.
Liverpool thus picked up their first silverware in six years and won the first silverware of the 2011-12 season.
Anybody moaning now?
Liverpool Clearly Need Reinforcements in the Summer for Midfield
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While Stewart Downing put in his best performance in a Liverpool shirt yet on the left wing, Jordan Henderson on the opposite flank was largely quiet for his almost-hour on the Wembley pitch.
More suited to playing centrally, Henderson has momentarily won the battle to fill the right wing slot which has rotated between himself, Downing and Dirk Kuyt. But none of them display their best qualities in that position, and none of them have really nailed down a spot in the team as a result.
Liverpool need to strengthen this area of the pitch and no doubt will in summer, but centrally as well could do with beefing up one way or another.
With Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam both sitting between halfway line and penalty box, there was not enough penetration from the Reds through the middle, especially with Downing pinging over crosses one side and Glen Johnson doing the same from the other.
A top drawer-holding midfielder would allow the Reds to release Gerrard a little further up the pitch a little more often—and keep two players up front.
Penalties: A Nightmare Scenario Liverpool Have Had Dream Luck with
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2001 vs. Birmingham City: Liverpool win League Cup on penalties.
2005 vs. AC Milan: Liverpool win Champions League on penalties.
2006 vs. West Ham United: Liverpool win FA Cup on penalties.
2012 vs. Cardiff City: Liverpool win League Cup on penalties.
Judging by that little list, the Reds can look forward to another Champions League success for 2016. But more to the point, the Reds have had extraordinary success over the past decade in winning major trophies as a result of holding their nerve better than their opponents from 12 yards.
Throw in several quarter- and semifinal wins from spot-kicks too, and it is clear Liverpool have had luck and mental strength about them for some time. They are able to take advantage of what can be a terribly tense and horrible way to end a game.
It wasn't the way Liverpool fans would have wanted, or expected, to lift the trophy at Wembley. But hey, if they keep winning the shoot-outs, then let's hope the Reds make it back to Wembley in the FA Cup—and that the game goes the full length again!
Martin Skrtel Is Cementing His Place as Liverpool's Player of the Season
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I've included Daniel Agger in the photo because every great performer has his base in a successful partnership, but Martin Skrtel is having a great season. He has quickly transformed himself from a mere first-team player who is good with the occasional meltdown in concentration, to a genuine can't-be-without player who ranks as one of the top defenders in the entire country.
Skrtel showed all his defensive aggression, both in the air and on the deck, to defend Liverpool's goal at Wembley, while again netting an important goal at the other end of the pitch to get his team back into the game.
The Slovakian has risen to the top of his game and beyond this season and deserves every plaudit that comes his way. Long may it continue, and his partnership with Daniel Agger continue to grow.
The Rest of the Season: FA Cup Success and a Top Four Spot to Target
So what now for Liverpool?
Well, it's quite clear actually.
The Reds need to get back to winning ways in the Premier League and beat Arsenal at Anfield next weekend, to really haul themselves back into the race for a top four finish.
Liverpool have 13 games remaining in the league season, one more than their rivals, and trail fourth place by seven points following wins for Arsenal and Chelsea this weekend.
The gap is not insurmountable, but it will definitely take a turnaround of form at Anfield to achieve it. The Reds have won just four of their 12 games at Anfield this season, despite remaining undefeated.
A win over Arsenal would be a great place to start the comeback.
Meanwhile, further cup success is still on the cards as Liverpool face Stoke City in the FA Cup quarterfinals. A win there means a trip back to Wembley for the semifinals—and just one more match to another cup final.
One competition done and dusted, but by Monday it will be in the Anfield trophy cabinet with the other seven lookalikes, and Liverpool must turn their full attention to ensuring that it is not the only success of this term.