February marks 10 years since Liverpool defeated Cardiff in the League Cup final at Wembley. Aaron Cutler revisits the game and previews the upcoming encounter between the sides.
Liverpool take on Cardiff in the fourth round of the FA Cup this weekend, almost ten years to the day since the same teams battled it out for League Cup supremacy at Wembley.
Much has happened in the preceding decade, at both clubs.
The Reds changed managers within six months of that triumph, with the incoming Brendan Rodgers a slip away from immortality.
A sliding doors moment if ever there was one, his reign quicky unravelled, the nadir a 6-1 reverse at the hands of Stoke City. The Northern Irishman’s successor set about changing doubters to believers, courtesy of Champions League and Premier League success.
If that was eventful, our own soap opera pales in comparison to that played out in the Welsh capital.
Two promotions, two relegations, a change in crest and colours, not to mention the tragic death of marquee signing Emiliano Salah, have made it a decade of exhilarating highs and crushing lows for the Bluebirds, who currently sit 20th in the Championship.
The upcoming anniversary of the 2012 final serves as a reminder as to the importance of domestic cup competitions, no matter your place in the footballing pyramid.
This is never more evident than in February, as Liverpool prepare to contest the same showpiece in three weeks’ time.
What began as a welcome distraction to the intensity of title and European assaults grew in importance with every round, culminating in a tempestuous two legged semi-final (fuelled primarily by the endlessly bizarre Arsenal fanbase) all Kopites were desperate to win.
If anybody doubted the thrill of reaching Wembley, the euphoria on show in the Emirates away end that night surely put paid to such cynicism. In fact, the birth of the terrific Diogo Jota chant bookmarked it as a famous night in club’s recent history.
Granted, the footballing landscape has changed beyond recognition. A tectonic shift saw both FA and League Cups relegated to after-thoughts. But in an era where state funded clubs can monopolise divisions, they may yet enjoy their own renaissance. Perhaps they already are.
Jurgen Klopp appears to recognise as much. Now into his final two years as Liverpool manager, he’ll be desperate to add to his trophy haul, no matter the competition. Make no mistake, Pep Guardiola’s penchant for hoovering up League Cups will not have gone unnoticed…
This makes Sunday’s tie an intriguing one when it comes to team selection. Coming off the back of an international break and the disruption that brings, do not be surprised if the manager goes relatively strong.
One thing’s for sure, if this game is half as eventful as Liverpool and Cardiff’s last cup meeting, the watching nation is in for some treat.
A crazy (classic) final
Look at the stats from the 2012 fixture and you’d presume Liverpool dominated their lower league opponents. In reality they toiled badly, a distinct lack of quality making for a frustrating afternoon.
The sheer randomness of that final is underlined by the fact Stewart Downing collected the Man of the Match award. Yes, really.
We started brightly enough, with Glen Johnson hitting the bar from long range as early as the second minute. Record signing Andy Carroll went close soon after before Cardiff’s opener, against the run of play, appeared to spread doubt throughout a patently flawed side.
The goal, which stemmed from Daniel Agger’s decision to engage Kenny Miller and Jose Enrique’s indecision in tracking Joe Mason, sparked a litany of pot shots and nearly moments. Watch the game back and you’ll agree Liverpool dominate the ball, without doing a great deal with it.
The equaliser, coming when it did, was a huge relief.
Downing’s corner was headed on, first by Carroll, then by Luis Suarez, only to be cleared off the line. Cardiff’s was a brief reprieve, as the ball landed at the feet of Martin Skrtel who stabbed home from close range. The nature of what was a very scruffy goal mattered little.
Parity was restored.
Yet watching Reds expecting our extra quality to come to the fore were badly mistaken.
Skrtel, Downing and Charlie Adam all drew smart saves from Cardiff keeper Tom Heaton but it was Miller who had the chance to win it late on, blazing high and wide having somehow found oceans of space in the 88th minute.
Cue extra time and another snapshot as to why this Liverpool side would ultimately limp into eighth position in the league. The introduction of Craig Bellamy at least brought some directness, while Suarez and Johnson both saw low drives drift wide, in between a goal line clearance.
Then the moment this game is remembered for. Dirk Kuyt’s moment.
A brilliant servant for Liverpool silverware had eluded the Dutchman for six long years. In many ways his goal encapsulated his style.
Receiving the ball from Johnson he drove ten yards before hitting one of the worst shots you’re ever likely to see, one inexplicably fed back into his path by the retreating Cardiff captain Mark Hudson.
Falling backwards, Kuyt then fired low into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. It was classic Dirk, nothing if not persistent.
The banner unfurled amongst the travelling Kop said it all – ‘Dirk Kuyt works hard.’
Yet the striker’s work wasn’t finished. To the dismay of watching reds Liverpool sunk deeper and deeper in an unconvincing attempt to see the game out.
With three minutes remaining Pepe Reina flapped at a cross, only for Kuyt to save his blushes with a goal line clearance. From the resulting corner however more chaos ensured and Cardiff’s Ben Turner duly bundled home. It felt and indeed looked like being one of those days.
The start of the penalty shootout appeared to confirm as much. First Steven Gerrard saw his strike saved before Adam skied an effort yet to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.
Thankfully Cardiff fared just as badly. Worse in fact.
Three misses – from Miller, Whittingham and famously Anthony Gerrard, cousin of Steven – saw Liverpool seal a 3-2 shootout victory (Kuyt, Downing and Johnson the scorers).
Was it vintage Liverpool? Far from it. But it was in-keeping with cup victories of that era. Indeed, Liverpool rarely did things the easy way.
Even in 2012 footballing snobs scoffed at the League Cup, already considered a lesser competition. But that mattered little to a support revelling in our first success at the new Wembley, made all the sweeter by the fact it was masterminded by the incomparable Kenny Dalglish.
We didn’t know it then, but that cup lift would prove our last for seven long years.
That draught is easy to forget when basking in the glow of recent achievements. But Manchester City’s dominance, coupled with the financial might of Chelsea, Man United and now Newcastle, will make it harder than ever to deliver silverware consistently.
Simply put, there are very pots on offer and while it’s logical to focus attentions and efforts on securing one or both of the ‘big two’, you have to be near perfect to do so. Moreover, you reduce the remit of what could be considered a successful season.
So let’s hope Liverpool defeat Cardiff in more routine fashion this weekend and see another route to Wembley open up in front of them.
Nobody is giving up on the league just yet but the blow of falling short would be softened if we could point to a domestic cup double.
They’d be far more than consolation prizes.