Capital One Cup Final 2021
Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool are back in their seventh consecutive Capital One Cup Final, and the opponents trying to topple them this time around will be Arsenal.
The Reds have been flying high in every competition this season, and are about ten points ahead at the Premier League's summit. Meanwhile, their opponents, the underdogs of this fixture for obvious reasons, have been the complete opposite.
Under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, Arsenal finally ended their Champions League heartbreak last season, clinching their first ever European Cup. And if that wasn't enough, the successful Spaniard made it a double, adding the FA Cup to the fairly barren trophy cabinet at the Emirates.
But the former Everton manager turned Gunners legend left in the summer to take the reins of the Spain national team, and with Arsenal currently lingering at 10th place, it is fair to say that Antonio Conte hasn't been able to replicate his predecessor. In fact, the Italian was sacked just last week after less than a year into the job, and Arsenal will go into this Final with interim in-charge Steve Bould.
For all their disappointments this season, a run in the Capital One Cup has been the shining positive, and no doubt Gooners will be desperately hoping for a happy ending. Against in-form Liverpool though, the possibility of winning their first League Cup since 1993 looks unlikely.
A Third Round draw against rivals Manchester United away at Old Trafford promised to be tough for Liverpool and it indeed was as the eventual finalists only found a winner through Conor Skinner in extra time. Sunderland was easily disposed of but a strong showing from Championship side Rotherham almost forced another extra time game against a lethargic Reds side in the Quarter Finals. The Semi Finals saw Norwich being slayed 7-3, sealing Liverpool's return to their second home stadium - Wembley.
: Rulli; Joseph, Umtiti, Papadopoulos, Alaba; Romero, Ward-Prowse, Savitskiy; Balotelli, Moreyra; Israel
: Steele, Clyne, Turan, Aubry, Skinner, Sterling, Zivkovic
Rodgers has pulled some surprises with his lineup today with players like Philippe Coutinho and Ernie Sharp failing to even make the bench. Richairo Zivkovic is also benched in favor of January signing Israel, who has been lethal up front with 4 goals in 6 games so far. Raheem Sterling is another key man who will not start the game, and instead it will be Mario Balotelli and Pavel Savitskiy occupying both wings. In defense, Eder Alvarez Balanta's untimely injury means that Kyriakos Papadopoulos will play against his former club.
Arsenal started their cup campaign with two fairly easy wins against Leicester and Stoke City. An unexpected triumph over big-spending Manchester City followed, with the Gunners scoring two past Golden Glove contender Joe Hart. A relatively straightforward two legs against Blackburn was met with two clear-cut victories, leading Arsenal into their first Capital One Cup Final in six years.
: Szczesny; Chambers, Murillo, Matip, Digne; Wilshere, Ramsey; Costa, Thauvin, Barkley; Insigne
: Ospina, Alhadhur, Asamoah, Mijailovic, Son, Ozil, Welbeck
Bould has gone for a simple 4-2-3-1 but his selections for the day has stunned Arsenal and non-Arsenal fans alike. Joel Matip has been introduced into the side and Jeison Murillo's usual defensive partner Aleksander Dragovic is left out completely, despite being fully fit. Jack Wilshere is also called into midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey, instead of the reliable Geoffrey Kondogbia, while Ross Barkley and Florian Thauvin are other starters that will leave many people scratching their heads, considering the duo has less than 10 league games shared between them this term. It may be unwise to criticize Bould's decisions as of yet though, for the temporary manager might just have a trick up his sleeve.
0' - And here we go! Liverpool versus their latest cup challengers Arsenal kicks off now. Can Bould's men pull off something extraordinary here, or will it be Liverpool bringing home their fourteenth League Cup trophy?
11' - Arsenal make the first move as some superb passing football sees Ross Barkley playing Lorenzo Insigne through, but the Gunners captain's strike is saved by Jeronimo Rulli.
16' - GOAL! James Ward-Prowse's cross finds Alejandro Moreyra, and the Argentine's volley smashes into the back of the net! Liverpool 1-0 up!
33' - GOAL! Liverpool extend their lead! Arsenal's defense simply cannot contain Liverpool as Pavel Savitskiy easily evades Calum Chambers to hit a forward pass for Israel. The Brazilian forward is promptly chased by Jeison Murillo, but he wastes no time as the ball is quickly given to Moreyra, who takes advantage of the enormous space allowed to him by Jack Wilshere to score his second goal of the day.
Jack Wilshere can only look on as Liverpool celebrate their second goal
36' - That was so close! Arsenal almost find a response! Barkley catches Liverpool's defenders napping as he finds Florian Thauvin. Left unmarked by David Alaba, the French winger has a clear shot at goal but attempts to dribble past Kyriakos Papadopoulos instead, and he is quickly punished as Samuel Umtiti hacks him down to make a clearance.
44' - Ward-Prowse's corner finds Mario Balotelli and the forward unleashes a powerful effort, but it's blocked by Chambers.
45' - HT: Liverpool 2-0 Arsenal. Arsenal aren't giving Liverpool much of a challenge at all, and an extremely inspirational half-time team talk may be needed to get them back on track. On the other hand, Liverpool are playing at their usual best, and will be looking to add to their scoreline.
45' - The second half kicks off.
53' - Amazing! Rulli punts the ball all the way up to Israel from the Liverpool goal, and the striker beats the offside trap to try his luck, but the Wojciech Szczesny keeps it from going to 3-0 with his lightning reflexes.
62' - GOAL! Magnificent free kick by Balotelli! No goalkeeper could have saved that. Accurate, precise, and fierce. No mistake!
Mario Balotelli punches the air after his free kick makes it 3-0
69' - GOAL! Liverpool are playing so offensively, with seven of their ten outfield players up front, and it's paying off! Ward-Prowse's pass goes to the feet of Balotelli, who is in a position to take a strike. However, he unselfishly gives it to Israel, and Joel Matip cannot keep the 19-year-old star from scoring!
71' - GOAL! Embarrassing for Arsenal at this point. Wilshere dispossesses Moreyra, but Israel latches onto the free ball ahead of Matip and Murillo to round past the defensive duo, who are both having a torrid time, to beat Szczesny for the completion of his brace.
79' - Red card! Papadopoulos picks up his second booking after taking down Insigne from behind, but with ten minutes left on the clock and leading by five goals, Liverpool are not going to be too unhappy.
Kyriakos Papadopoulos doesn't appear too fed up about being sent off, with Liverpool leading 5-0
84' - Insigne is fed by Mesut Ozil and has a crack after beating Umtiti, but his side is not allowed even a consolation goal with Rulli diving to save the ball.
90' - GOAL! Disastrous, absolutely disastrous! Israel sees his final attempt at a hat trick parried by Szczesny, but the rebound falls to Savitskiy whose cross mistakenly seeks out Lucas Digne. It is the left-back who makes the worst mistake of all though, as his clearance hits Balotelli to reverse itself into the Arsenal net. What a terrible error to make, and as Liverpool celebrate their sixth goal, Digne is down on his knees with his head buried in his hands.
90' - FT: Liverpool 6-0 Arsenal. Goals galore for Liverpool and the Kop will be delighted with the performance today. Arsenal, on the contrary, have been dreadful, and the club's board will now speed up their search for a new manager having already seen for themselves why Bould cannot be trusted with the role.