Liverpool and Chelsea are set to do battle in the Carabao Cup final, set to take place tonight at Wembley.
27 February 2022
Stuart Attwell (England)
It has been a season of ups and downs for Thomas Tuchel and his team. They started rather strongly, but they occasionally dropped points where they shouldn’t have and their chances of winning the title in the Premier League are very remote; purely theoretical, one might almost say. At the moment, the London Blues are third with 50 points, 13 less than City at the top though with a game in hand.
Chelsea had a decent group stage in the Champions League. Drawn to face Juventus, Zenit and Malmo in Group H, they finished second to the Serie A giants, and well ahead of the Russian and the Swedish side. They beat LOSC Lille in the first leg of the round of 16 rather comfortably, though the job of disposing of the Ligue 1 champions isn’t quite done yet, with the rematch being played on March 16th in France.
As the holders of the Champions League trophy, Chelsea have added the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup to their trophy cabinet, with the latter coming after triumphs over Al-Hilal of Qatar and Brazilian Palmeiras earlier this month.
Chelsea got past Aston Villa, Southampton and Brentford, and eventually Tottenham Hotspur rather convincingly over two legs to get to this final.
Their last-six run consists of a 2-0 win over Spurs at home, a surprisingly narrow 2-1 home win over Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup, the 1-0 win over Al-Hilal and 2-1 over Palmeiras at the Club World Cup, followed by a 0-1 win away to Crystal Palace and the 2-0 win over Lille in London.
Tuchel had some happy news to report ahead of this match. Winger Hakim Ziyech and midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who both limped off injured during the Lille clash, trained fully on Friday and are in contention. Even better, from a Chelsea perspective of course, is the news that Reece James is also back in full training. The right-back hasn’t played at all this year due to a hamstring.
The only player who certainly won’t be taking part on Sunday is left-back Ben Chilwell.
Tuchel is yet to decide whether to name Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal again, after the Spaniard played throughout the competition so far, or to revert to his usual No.1, Edouard Mendy. Chilwell’s absence means Marcos Alonso is nailed on to start on the left, but the manager obviously has numerous options to arrange his team in every other position. One thing is certain, though; he won’t be holding anything back.
Liverpool supporters are currently euphoric, following the hardly believable increase in their chances to win the Premier League again. It’s quite understandable – if they do, they’ll equal the record of 20 league titles currently held by Manchester United. At the moment, the Merseysiders are just three points behind City, and they are yet to play at the Etihad.
Nonetheless, manager Jurgen Klopp or his players won’t turn their backs on this particular match and the chance to win the Carabao Cup trophy on Sunday. It would certainly increase their confidence for the rest of the season. To get to this moment, they moved past Norwich City, Preston North End, Leicester City, and they beat Arsenal over two legs in the semifinals.
Liverpool won their Champions League rather comfortably, winning all six matches against Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and AC Milan. Like Chelsea, they practically have one foot in the quarterfinals after winning the first leg of the round of 16 away, though in their case it’s probably more of a statement given that their opponents were Serie A champions Inter Milan.
The Merseysiders are truly on an impressive run. Their last six matches in all competitions include a 3-1 win over Cardiff City in the FA Cup, a 2-0 home win over Leicester City, a 0-1 triumph away to Burnley, a 0-2 win over Inter in Milan, a 3-1 win over Norwich, and a 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United on Wednesday.
Roberto Firmino definitely won’t be able to help his team through injury, while fellow forward Diogo Jota could be back in contention but it’s not too likely at the moment. The rest of the squad should be at Klopp’s disposal.
Klopp used Sadio Mane as the central attacker to great effect against Leeds while January signing Luis Diaz harassed the opposition defence mostly from the left, and with Mohamed Salah, formerly of Chelsea, is on the right, there probably won’t be any change of the front line. Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino will have to settle for a place on the bench.
As with Kepa at Chelsea, Caoimhin Kelleher has so far been given to play in the place of Alisson Becker in the cups, and that could be the case in the final as well. Virgil van Dijk will surely start, likely with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the flanks, but the name of the second centre-back should be decided between Joel Matip, who scored a brilliant goal against Leeds, and Ibrahima Konate, who has proven to have been a shrewd acquisition last summer.
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