Two of the Premier League’s elite will fight for the Carabao Cup this Sunday in Wembley Stadium
Liverpool and Chelsea have already produced some thrilling battles this season — a 1-1 draw at Anfield back in August and a wild 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in January. The latter treated us to arguably the best half of football we’ve seen in the Premier League this season.
Take away these recent contests, and the history and rivalry between the two clubs is still just as strong. The Reds and the Blues have fought each other for Champions League glory, Premier League titles, FA Cup and League Cup trophies — simply put, there is no love lost between these two sides.
Let’s forget the history and focus on the now. What will Sunday’s final entail? Who should you look out for? Which matchups will determine the result? Here are three battles that could decide who lifts the Carabao Cup trophy come Sunday evening.
Liverpool’s midfield vs. Chelsea’s midfield
It’s pretty obvious that the midfield battle will play a key part in determining the result of this match, whoever wins this battle will more than likely be the victors on the day. The Reds midfield has been rock solid over the last month or so, and I don’t expect that to change come Sunday. The key to making Liverpool’s midfield tick is Fabinho. The Brazilian has been dominant since the calendar turned over, and he’s even got some hardware to show for it — Fabinho was voted Liverpool’s Standard Chartered Player of the Month in January. Fabinho will need to protect the backline by winning tackles, intercepting passes and being the catalyst for some of Liverpool’s attacks.
I expect we will see Thiago and Jordan Henderson alongside Fabinho which means the LFC midfield will be sound defensively, full of energy and calm in possession. Henderson is known for his impressive work rate and fight, so expect him to be all over the pitch helping Fabinho with the defensive responsibilities and carrying the play forward to pressure Chelsea’s backline. Thiago will be vital in stretching Chelsea with his ball retention skills and penetrating passes. This Liverpool midfield trio will need to keep their shape and take the opportunities to drive against Chelsea when they present themselves.
Depending on Thomas Tuchel’s midfield selection, we could see Fabinho have a bit more freedom in the middle of the park. N’Golo Kante will surely be in the lineup, but there is a bit of a question of who will line up next to him. If Tuchel plays Jorginho, we should see more space open up for Fabinho to control the middle third as Jorginho tends to join the attack more often than Mateo Kovacic. Both Jorginho and Kovacic aren’t greatly adept going forward with the ball, but a pairing of Kante and Kovacic would provide Chelsea with more defensive security. Kovacic was subbed off midweek against Lille with a muscle injury so he may be a doubt for Sunday’s final.
Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip vs. Chelsea’s target man
I have to believe that Kai Havertz will get the start up front given his recent impressive performances, but then again, why would you spend all that money on Romelu Lukaku if he’s not going to start the big games? Whoever gets the nod will be up against the league’s best center-back pairing.
The Matip and van Dijk pairing have seemingly reached a new high with their recent performances and will be ready for whatever Chelsea throws at them. If Havertz is selected, expect to see a free-flowing Chelsea front three that will have no problem picking up different positions throughout the match, similar to what they did against Lille in the Champions League. Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner can and will move around to try and cause problems for the Red’s center-backs. Communication and quick decision-making will be necessary for van Dijk and Matip.
If Lukaku is selected, I think it’s a more favorable matchup for the center-back pairing. Lukaku has the size and strength to cause problems but is less mobile than his counterparts. The Belgium striker’s physical attributes will only take him so far against the likes of van Dijk. That’s not to say Lukaku isn’t dangerous in front of goal, but his playing style will make Chelsea more predictable in the final third.
Van Dijk and Matip will be up against several quality attacking players and will need to stay focused for the entirety of the match to keep the pressure on Caoimhin Kelleher’s net at a minimum.
Kelleher vs. Kepa
Unlike Klopp, Tuchel has yet to announce who will start in goal for the final. Kepa Arrizabalaga has started all of Chelsea’s Carabao Cup matches to this point so it’s expected he will get the start.
Kelleher will be in goal for the Reds and will need to put on a similar performance to that of the last meeting between these two sides. The 23-year-old Irish international was sensational in London when he filled in for Alisson, making several impressive saves to keep the match level.
With two of the best keepers in the world likely to be on the bench, the starting keepers will be under extreme pressure to keep their sides in the match. Chelsea’s Kepa has underwhelmed since they signed him for £72 million and will be keen to leave his mark in Chelsea history. Kelleher is a promising youngster and has already impressed enough to jump Adrian in the pecking order, but this impressive Carabao Cup run won’t be complete without the trophy. A key save or two may prove to be the difference so we hope Kelleher can settle into the match quickly.
A Liverpool victory at Wembley this Sunday would be the ninth League Cup in the club’s history, moving Liverpool ahead of Manchester City for most League Cups. Let’s make history! Up the bloody Reds!