Preview of the Carabao Cup final. Key players, tactical battles, predictions

Two of the Premier League’s top sides face off at Wembley on Sunday, as Chelsea take on Liverpool for the Carabao Cup (LIVE stream on ESPN+, Feb. 27, 11:30 a.m. ET).

Both teams have had memorable battles over the years – the 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge in the 2008-09 Champions League quarter-finals, anyone? – but have been level in league games this season, with a 1-1 draw at Anfield in August followed by a thrilling 2-2 draw at London in January.

So what’s in store for Sunday’s flagship final? Who needs a trophy the most at this stage? Which players should intervene or could prove decisive? And how will the two managers face off? Mark Ogden and James Olley get you ready for the big game.

Jump to: Who Needs Victory Most? | Tuchel against Klopp | Key players | Fun Fact/Something to Watch | Predictions

Who needs it most?

Ogden: In many ways, the Carabao Cup is a trophy that no team needs to win.

Liverpool and Chelsea both have bigger priorities – the Premier League and Champions League, to start with – and they’ve each won both major prizes in recent seasons. The pressure fell on both teams on Sunday and Chelsea have already cashed in the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup this season, but if any team needs it more it’s Liverpool, simply because that Jurgen Klopp’s side arguably haven’t earned the amount of silverware their performances deserve over the past three or four seasons.

By winning the Carabao Cup, the Reds would somewhat resolve this imbalance, while maintaining the hope of an unprecedented quadruple this season. Winning at Wembley could be Liverpool’s launch pad for a remarkable end to the campaign. On the other side, success at Chelsea would extend manager Thomas Tuchel’s trophy streak to four since taking over in January 2021 – an obvious incentive for the German tactician.

Olley: It has to be said that it’s more important for Chelsea, especially for Tuchel, considering the bigger picture. Chelsea are not going to win the Premier League and their indifferent form at the moment risks dropping them into the top four. Tuchel is not yet close to the stage where he has to fear for his job, but that point usually comes quickly for Chelsea managers and another trophy would give him extra credit in the bank to make up for the disappointment of not having managed to mount a sustained title challenge. .

Mark is right in that Liverpool should have more to show for their superb football in recent years, but the Premier League is suddenly within their reach again and they were the first English side to win all six of the group stage matches in the Champions League earlier this season. They have the two biggest prizes of all in sight and so the Carabao Cup is just a mere footnote to their season at this point.

Sunday won’t define Chelsea’s campaign either, but Tuchel is under more immediate pressure to prove he continues to drive Chelsea forward. A first success in the national cup would be tangible proof of this.

Tuchel vs Klopp: Who has the advantage?

Ogden: Klopp has the better squad and individual players than Chelsea, so Tuchel has his work cut out to devise a tactical plan to beat Liverpool. Right now, Liverpool are arguably the best side in Europe and their 6-0 win over Leeds in midweek underscored their incredible attacking threat.

If Liverpool do their best, they will win on Sunday. Sorry Chelsea, but everything is working out for Liverpool at the moment and Tuchel’s players will have to smother Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane up front, keep Fabinho contained in midfield, find a way past centre-back Virgil van Dijk and cancel. the threat of full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Chelsea have struggled to impress in recent games, although they still managed to win. Against Liverpool, they can’t expect luck again unless Tuchel finds a way to repeat the end-to-end game that saw the two sides draw 2-2 at Stamford Bridge in January . Liverpool have won 10 out of 11 games since then, and they’ve taken it to another level.

Olley: The meeting between these two last month was overshadowed by the omission of Romelu Lukaku following an unauthorized interview in which he discussed his one day return to Inter Milan. And here we are again: Lukaku was dropped for Tuesday’s win over Lille, with Tuchel claiming his €115million striker was tired, a claim quietly denied by the player’s side.

Last month, Tuchel started the game against Liverpool with Kai Havertz up front supported by Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic. The idea was to win the ball high up the pitch and break quickly in transition, something replicated to some degree against Lille, and so all eyes will be on Tuchel’s squad selection. He opted for a 4-1-4-1 form against Crystal Palace and Lille, but a return to 3-4-2-1 must appeal with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso once again fit to play as wingers.

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Shaka Hislop thinks Chelsea could play more in Romelu Lukaku’s style but still thinks the striker should offer the Blues more.

Key players for both teams

Ogden: Liverpool are blessed with a number of key players (Salah, Van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Alexander-Arnold), but no one has excelled more than Fabinho in recent weeks and the Brazilian midfielder will be a key figure against Chelsea. If Tuchel opts for Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante in midfield it will be an attempt to lessen Fabinho’s influence on the game, but his powerful performances this season suggest Kante and Kovacic will have to focus solely on maintaining Fabinho out of the game. If Tuchel uses Jorginho, then Fabinho will have more freedom to dominate the middle third of the pitch.

Whoever wins the midfield battle will have the best chance of winning, but if Chelsea are to succeed they need Havertz to deliver the big chance again or hope Lukaku (if selected) can find his way to the goal. The Belgian doesn’t do it often enough against top clubs but Sunday would be a good time to start.

Olley: Lukaku was signed to win games like this, but let’s focus on Christian Pulisic instead. The United States international told ESPN in a recent interview that he was struggling to find his rhythm due to a lack of playing time, but this week he started consecutive games for only the third time this season. . With Hakim Ziyech and Mount both uncertain of their fitness – although the latter is fit enough for the bench against Lille – Pulisic has a strong case for a start again as he hopes to make it a third chance at Wembley.

Pulisic scored and picked up the injury as Chelsea lost the 2020 FA Cup final to Arsenal. He played just 22 minutes as a substitute as Leicester beat them in the 2021 final. Perhaps this is Pulisic’s chance to be on the right side of history. If he scores on Sunday, he will become just the sixth Chelsea player to find the net in both of England’s domestic cup finals.

Fun fact/something to watch

Ogden: If Liverpool win, it will be the club’s 66th trophy, leveling it with Manchester United to become the most successful club in English football. This figure includes everything from Club World Cups to Community Shields, with more than a few league titles and Champions Leagues as well.

To put Liverpool and United’s trophies into perspective, Arsenal are third on the list with 48, while Chelsea are fourth with 34. Manchester City’s recent dominance has delivered plenty of trophies since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan bought the club in 2008, but they have only managed 28 trophies in their history so far. So if Liverpool win the Carabao Cup/EFL Cup for a record ninth time, they will be on course to claim top spot if they also win at least one of the Premier League, Champions League or FA Cup this season.

Olley: Chelsea are the first English football team to play in a national final in six consecutive seasons: (FA Cup: 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021; League Cup: 2019 and 2022). They reached the final also keeping three consecutive clean sheets. Only one team (Swansea City in 2013) won the competition without conceding from the quarter-finals.

This partly reflects the improvement in Kepa Arrizabalaga – the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at nearly €80million, but Chelsea’s second choice behind Edouard Mendy, who barely got the wrong glove the last year. Kepa was dropped for the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi earlier this month but has started all Carabao Cup games this season. If he were given the green light again, as expected, it would bring back memories of his antics in the 2019 final when he refused to be substituted as the game against Manchester City neared penalties, sparking a backlash apoplectic from then-Blues boss Maurizio Sarri.

Prediction

Ogden: Liverpool 3-1 Chelsea. Liverpool are flying at the moment and they may feel a chance to make history this season. Chelsea simply haven’t played well enough to suggest they can beat Klopp’s side.

Olley: Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea. Chelsea have the ability to rise to any occasion – last year’s Champions League final was proof of that – but Liverpool are currently in irrepressible form and are rightly starting as favourites.

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