Liverpool have won the Carling Cup for the eighth time after a narrow penalty-shootout win over Cardiff City. This is Liverpool’s first trophy since winning the FA Cup in 2006.
Liverpool were once again below-par all game and struggled to overcome a Cardiff side who more than matched them for effort, and it has to be said, ability, for long stages of the game, and Cardiff can consider themselves extremely unlucky not to be bringing the cup back to Wales with them. Both teams showed that far from being the ‘mickey mouse’ trophy that it is often derided to be, the Carling Cup was a trophy they both desperately wanted to win and both teams fought hard to try and make that a reality.
Liverpool certainly didn’t have an easy ride to the final, playing only one home game en route to the final. After a win at Exeter, Liverpool survived a potential banana skin away at Brighton, who were in great form at the time. Liverpool then won two tough away ties at Stoke and Chelsea, before beating Manchester City over two legs in the semi-final.
While I’m delighted that Liverpool have won a trophy, the question now is what happens next? The Carling Cup is definitely regarded as the poor relation of the three major trophies in English football. Some teams participate in name only, sending out weakened sides and not really caring how they fare. The FA Cup is the more prestigious of the cup competitions and the one taken more seriously by most of the top teams, despite the ultimate prize of entry into the following season’s Europa League being the same for both cup competitions.
There were eyebrows raised a few weeks ago when Steven Gerrard was asked given the choice, would he rather win the Carling Cup of finish in the top 4 of the league, thus qualifying for the following season’s Champions League, Gerrard replied he’d rather win the Carling Cup. There have been similar opinions expressed by other members of the Liverpool squad.
It’s understandable that there have been many players who have said that given the choice between winning the Carling Cup and qualifying for the following season’s Champions League, they would choose winning a trophy. Players often define their careers by how many medals they’ve won, so a cup medal, even in a cup regarded with disdain by many teams, will be something to cherish. Steven Gerrard knows he’s entering the downward phase of his career, so will want to accumulate as many medals as he can before he retires.
The Champions League is by far and away the most prestigious competition available to all European clubs and the most financially lucrative. It is the competition that all players want to be in. Apart from the obvious financial rewards, Champions League football is also a huge selling point when trying to attract new signings and that is why Liverpool, and all Liverpool fans, will be desperate to get back in after a two-year absence.
Champions League football is the main objective for Liverpool this season, and sadly, that objective looks to be a long-shot at present. Liverpool currently lie seven points behind the current fourth place team, though with a game in hand, and have an inferior goal difference to Chelsea and Arsenal by ten goals. Liverpool are good enough to beat anybody on their day, but unfortunately, those days are too far apart. The required consistency to finish in the top four has been missing all season and time is running out to rectify things before the end of the season.
The final was a microcosm of the problems Liverpool have had all season. After a few positive performances lately, the ineffective side of Andy Carroll returned, there was no real pace to the way Liverpool played, making it easy to defend, and despite having the lion’s share of possession, Liverpool struggled to create clear chances. Cardiff were afforded too much space in midfield, with Charlie Adam not the right player to play in the holding role and Jordan Henderson still hasn’t showed why so much faith and money has been invested in him by Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool hierarchy.
There is real hope that Liverpool will be able to use the confidence, and in some players case the experience, gained from winning the Carling Cup to spur them on to bigger and better things for the rest of this season and in seasons to come. Hopefully, this will be the case and it won’t be another false dawn for Liverpool.
Cup wins are always a very welcome addition to a season, and the Carling Cup will make a very nice addition to the Liverpool trophy cabinet, but if Liverpool doesn’t qualify for next season’s Champions League, which looks unlikely at present, there will be a feeling that this season will have fallen far short of expectations, and with the huge investment made in the playing squad by the owners last summer, there will be questions asked about the future of many members of the squad and, Kenny Dalglish.