Capital One Cup Final
28 Feb 2016 - 4:30 PM
Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City (City win 3-1 on penalties)
Manuel Pellegrini may be departing the City Of Manchester Stadium in the summer but he made sure he will do so with a trophy in the cabinet and his place assured in the City history books.
The Chilean became the first Manchester City manager to win two League Cups after a penalty shoot-out victory over Liverpool at Wembley Stadium connected by EE.
However there is an easy way and a hard way to do things and Pellegrini is unlikely to thank his players for making him wait 120 minutes and then spot-kicks for this victory to be confirmed when they had more than enough chances to put away a lacklustre Liverpool in normal time.
The fact they didn’t was partly down to profligate finishing from the City forwards but also due to a series of excellent saves from Simon Mignolet who more than atoned for the error that resulted in City’s second-half opener.
Such was Mignolet’s dominance over City’s attackers and, in particular, their star striker Sergio Aguero, that when it came to penalty kicks the Belgian must have thought it would be his day.
But, in the end, it was the other goalkeeper who was the hero.
Willy Caballero, stepping from Joe Harte’s shadow where he has been forced to spend much of the season, won the day with a series of brilliant penalty saves.
Before the game both managers largely kept faith with the line-ups which led them to European success in the week, with Caballero replacing Hart the only change from the City side which beat Dynamo Kiev while Jurgen Klopp named the same team which beat Augsberg in the Europa League on Thursday.
Given the lack of squad rotation and a day’s less rest you could have forgiven Liverpool a sluggish start but there was nothing of it, as inside 30 seconds Alberto Moreno flew down the left and fizzed in a low cross which Caballero did well to gather.
A disjointed 15 minutes of football then followed and that lack of cohesion was further underlined as two Liverpool players attacked the same ball resulting in a nasty clash of heads between Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can.
The former seemed to come off worse but chose to soldier on, a decision he probably regretted eight minutes later as David Silva split the Liverpool defence apart and Aguero left the Frenchman on his backside.
Mignolet came to the big centre half’s rescue palming the Argentine’s effort onto the post but Klopp had seen enough and withdrew Sakho from the fray.
The game then became a war of attrition, neither side offering much in the way of threat for the rest of the half and the Liverpool fans spending more time booing the pantomime victim Raheem Sterling than cheering the scant encouragement they were given.
If the first half was a bit low on entertainment then the players came out in the second half determined to make up for it and within four minutes of the restart the blue half of the stadium had a goal to cheer.
Aguero’s clever ball played in Fernandinho down the right but the Brazilian seemed too wide for there to be any real danger.
Nonetheless the confident midfielder, fresh from his man of the match display in the Ukraine on Wednesday, night tried his luck and found it was in as his effort squirmed under the embarrassed Mignolet.
That sparked a previously toothless Liverpool into life and Sturridge slipped in Milner who sliced his shot wide from a promising position.
Despite that foray into opposition territory for the Reds it was still City who looked the more dangerous and a former incumbent of the red shirt should have added to their problems as Silva squared for Sterling only for the England international to fire wide.
Liverpool continued to live dangerously two minutes later as Aguero cut inside Moreno and went to ground inside the penalty area but referee Michael Oliver waved away the claims.
Sterling was proving unusually wasteful in-front of goal as he missed once more from six-yards, this time from Aguero’s pass and City entered the final ten minutes far less comfortable than they should have been.
And City were made to pay late on as Sturridge fizzed the ball across goal, Lallana thumped it against a post but, as it came back out, Coutinho made no mistake to send the red hoards behind Caballero’s goal into raptures.
Only seven minutes remained yet still either side could have won it in normal time.
Mignolet atoned for his earlier error by being in the right place at the right time to stop Fernando’s goal-bound effort before Caballero had a more straight forward task at the other end to stop Henderson’s deflected shot.
Then, as the clock ticked past 90, Yaya Toure must have thought he had won it for the Citizens only for the big Ivorian to see his header hit Otamendi on the line.
How Aguero hadn’t got on the score sheet in normal time was something of a quandary and it was posed again late in the first half of extra-time.
More questionable defending from Liverpool saw the diminutive Argentine in the clear but once again he was foiled by Mignolet whose strong left hand took the pace off his stabbed effort and allowed Kolo Toure to clear.
However the 30 added minutes was proving far more even than the previous 90 and Liverpool underlined their threat three minutes into the second half of extra time.
Milner kept a seemingly impossible ball alive and Origi thumped a close range header straight at Caballero.
Liverpool continued to almost be masters of their own downfall as Lucas’ hooked a back-pass straight to Aguero who looped his first time shot over.
Penalties loomed large and the prone figure of Sturridge late on in extra-time appeared to deprive Liverpool of one of their more obvious takers.
However, to say that was decisive would be unfair on Caballero.
The life of a number two goalkeeper cannot be an easy one especially when you must patiently wait behind a number one as consistent as Hart.
However when his chance to shine came along the Argentine stopper left nothing to chance getting a strong hand to three of Liverpool’s penalties and then ensuring he got an even stronger grasp on the Capital One Cup trophy.
The first person to congratulate him after he had raised it? Joe Hart of course!
Manchester City: Caballero, Sagna (off for Zabaleta 90), Kompany (C), Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando (off for Navas 90), Fernandinho, Toure, Silva (off for Bony 110), Sterling, Aguero
Subs not used: Hart, Kolarov, Demichelis, Iheanacho
Goals: Fernandinho 49
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lucas, Sakho (off for Toure 25), Moreno (off for Lallana 72), Can, Henderson (C), Milner, Firmino (off for Origi 80), Coutinho, Sturridge
Subs not used: Bogdan, Benteke, Allen, Flanagan
Goals: Coutinho 83