Nothing is guaranteed

Wembley Stadium will be the focus of attention in English football tomorrow when it hosts the first major final which sees Premier League side Liverpool meeting Championship opponents Cardiff City in a Carling Cup showdown. It is a chance for either side to write a small piece of history by claiming the first prize that is on offer this season.

Many pundits see my Liverpool as overwhelming favourites, but I hope that is not how Kenny Dalglish and his charges will approach the game. It is only a year ago when we thought the Arsenal would be ending their six-year trophy drought when they faced relegation-threatened Birmingham City in the final of the same cup, but we all know what happened.

In fact, Liverpool, more than most sides, know how it feels to fall victim of a giant-killing act having been sent packing out of cup campaigns by ostensible minnows a number of times before. Indeed, memories are still fresh of how they made hard work of beating the same Birmingham City, then of the First Division, in the 2001 final of the same cup. So, nothing is guaranteed.

Personally, I think the Reds have this season reaped the rewards of showing respect to this trophy. From the first match, they never experimented too much and fielded strong squads even against the likes of Exeter City. Of course, a total of 24 players have been involved in this tournament, but there were no wholesale changes at any point.

Obviously, they did not have the luxury of bringing in young players in the later rounds when they met Premier League opposition in Stoke City, Chelsea and Manchester City. It must be mentioned that none of these sides took the trophy lightly either as they fielded fairly strong teams even if they explored the depth of their squads.

For Cardiff City, they have nothing to lose. Making the final is in itself a huge achievement and winning will only be a bonus. Liverpool will provide their strongest test in the tournament because, save for Premier League side Blackburn Rovers who they dismissed in the quarter-finals, all the other opposition was from their level or the lower tiers of English football.

The fact that there will be no pressure bearing on them makes the Welsh side a tough proposition. They will be expected to play with a lot of freedom as they seek to enjoy the occasion. It may, therefore, be a much closer contest than many people envisage it to be. Do not rule out an upset although it is something I would not like to think about.

Meanwhile, league action continues in the English top flight. Manchester giants—United and City—who had contrasting passages to the Uefa Europa League round of 16, continue their tight race for the title. Barring an upset, both sides should claim three points and take the battle for top spot further to the other week.

The biggest focus in the league this week will, therefore, be on North London where bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur and the Arsenal meet at the Emirates tomorrow. The Gunners will be looking not only to avenge the defeat at White Hart Lane earlier in the season but also breathe some life into their stuttering quest to hold on to the coveted position four on the league table.

It will be nice for either side to go into the international break on the back of a positive result and we should be in for an interesting match.

Share This Post