Cardiff City 2 Liverpool 2: Lessons from a dramatic Carling Cup final
What did we learn from Liverpool's dramatic penalty shootout win over Cardiff City in the Carling Cup final at Wembley?
A new Liverpool era
Kenny Dalglish’s second spell in charge at Liverpool has seen the Scot guide the club to their first trophy since 2006 and their eighth League Cup title. The 60-year-old steadied the rocking ship when he returned just over 12 months ago and even the most optimistic of Liverpool supporters would not have envisaged a date at Wembley so soon into his reign, ultimately capped with silverware. Liverpool must build on this success with a FA Cup quarter-final tie against Stoke City on the horizon and their rivals’ victories in the league meaning the Reds need to stay in touch in the race for fourth spot.
Dirk Kuyt’s role at Liverpool has diminished this season, with the Netherlands striker largely restricted to making appearances from the bench – but the 31-year-old remains a valuable asset at Anfield. He has scored many vital goals for the Reds since moving to the Premier League from Feyenoord and his contribution as a substitute on Sunday was vital. He brought renewed impetus to Liverpool’s performance in the second half and extra-time, putting the Reds ahead for the first time in the 110th minute. He made a goal-line clearance in the closing moments, and struck first for Liverpool in the penalty shootout, calming his side’s nerves.
Resilient Cardiff City
Cardiff were unfortunate losers in a compelling Carling Cup final and Malky Mackay’s side will have earned many new admirers thanks to their valiant display. Joe Mason handed the Championship outfit an early lead and the Welsh side showed tremendous character to keep battling until the very end. Ben Turner scored a dramatic 118th-minute equaliser after Martin Skrtel and Kuyt had netted for Liverpool, forcing the final to be decided on penalties. Cardiff will look to take the positives from the experience and make a push for promotion to the top flight next season, looking to catch Championship pacesetters West Ham United and Southampton.
Liverpool have struggled in front of goal this season and the Reds failed to convert their dominance in the final. The Premier League outfit had 42 shots on Cardiff’s goal before Kuyt struck in the 117th minute of extra-time. Bluebirds goalkeeper Tom Heaton was impressive but Dalglish’s side were almost made to pay for their wastefulness with Cardiff’s late equaliser forcing a shoot-out. Liverpool’s rebuilding process is in full swing but Dalglish needs a prolific striker to partner the creative Luis Suárez and fill the void left by Fernando Torres.
Downing finally delivers
Stewart Downing has endured a tough start to his Liverpool career and the midfielder is yet to repay his £20m transfer fee. The former Aston Villa winger was bought to add much needed width to the Reds’ midfield and it was hoped that his ability to deliver dangerous crosses would help Andy Carroll find his form. Downing was Liverpool’s standout performer against Cardiff and the England international, who was called up to the national side by Stuart Pearce for Wednesday’s friendly against the Netherlands, is steadily improving and his direct running caused Cardiff numerous problems.