Liverpool vs. Chelsea: Carabao Cup Final Preview

Once again, Liverpool and Chelsea will meet in a Final. Will it be another shootout, or will someone lift the trophy within 90 minutes?
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Once again, it’s time for a Cup Final! And once again, it’s against Chelsea. Surely, we’re all bracing for a 0-0 draw; the 2022 League Cup and FA Cup finals, both played between these two teams, were both 0-0, as were the two ensuing Premier League fixtures between the clubs.

They also drew 1-1 to open the season this year, but recently, Liverpool broke the deadlock with a 4-1 thrashing at Anfield.

This time, the teams will meet at Wembley once more, with plenty of injury issues on both sides. Let’s talk about who might be on the pitch, and what we can expect from the Reds as they look to secure their first trophy of the campaign. 

Top of the Pitch

Brentford’s ground just might be a cursed location for Liverpool. We came out of that match knowing that the Reds were dealing with some injuries, but after Mo Salah and Darwin Nunez were completely inactive against Luton Town, the situation has proven to be more dire than initially understood. 

Either or both of those players could appear in the Final, but there’s no guarantee, and if they do play it will likely be as substitutes.

There aren’t too many options as far as who could go in the XI; it’s going to have to be the same group that played against Luton, Luis Díaz on the left, Cody Gakpo up top, and Harvey Elliott on the right.

Fortunately, all three scored, although the group was rather wasteful as the Reds missed on four of their six big chances. 

We’ll see if the front line can be a bit more clinical as they attempt to pick apart a stronger defense, as Chelsea’s squad ranks about average in the league by most metrics.

The Blues just put in a really strong shift as they limited Manchester City to just a single goal from 31 shots- albeit just five on target- in a draw on Saturday, and had the midweek off; expect the back line to be well-rested and ready to go for this fixture. Reece James will still be out, but Thiago Silva could be ready to go.

The Midfield

It’s genuinely challenging to know what’s going on with Dominik Szoboszlai, but if he’s not able to give a full 90, which he likely will not even if he’s available at all, it’s extremely probable that we get the midfield that held 61% of possession against Luton Town, especially if Elliott is starting on the wing.

That group consists of Ryan Gravenberch, Alexis Mac Allister, and Wataru Endō, all of whom looked good on Wednesday. 

Youngsters Bobby Clark and James McConnell made midfield cameos against Luton, and with the club’s injury issues, expect them to both be in the squad against Chelsea, although they’re somewhat less likely to actually see the pitch in a Cup Final. 

Chelsea’s shape centers around holding midfielders Enzo Fernández and Moises Caicedo, neither of whom have been fantastic in their first season together for the club.

The Blues have been a solid enough possession side, but for a squad that isn’t too dominant on the break, their average performance is likely not enough to light up the scoreboard against Liverpool.

They’ll have a chance to overperform against a thinly-stretched Reds XI, and their team will definitely need it.

The Back End

Stop me if you’ve heard this before; it’s easy to project who’s going to start in Liverpool’s defense because there are no other healthy options.

To be fair, that’s slightly less true for this group than the others. We could see either one of Andy Robertson or Joe Gomez at left back, depending on the fitness of the star Scotsman.

If Robertson does start, either Gomez or Jarell Quansah could join Virgil at centre-back. Or, it could be Ibrahima Konaté, who simply did not play against Luton.

So it turns out that there are, in fact, a few decisions to be made in the back line, but some have already been made, other than the obvious inclusion of van Dijk. Alisson will still be out, so Caoimhin Kelleher will be in the net- he was the penalty shootout hero in this fixture two years ago.

There’s another potentially-fascinating decision that keeps getting pushed off, which is how to get both Trent Alexander-Arnold and rising star right back Conor Bradley into the XI, but once again, only one will be available; this time it’s Bradley, who will be in the lineup for sure.

Chelsea’s attack has been outrageously inconsistent, but there have been some solid performances, often from attacking midfielder Conor Gallagher. Former Manchester City youngster Cole Palmer leads the team with 10 Premier League goals, while Liverpool alum Raheem Sterling provides pace and the occasional big play.

Those two will likely start alongside striker Nicolas Jackson, but Mauricio Pochettino actually has a few other options, so we’ll have to see how he lines his squad up to attack a wounded but still talented LFC defense.