Willy Caballero the hero as Man City beat Liverpool to win Capital One Cup
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Man City's penalty shoot-out win over Liverpool to clinch the Capital One Cup at Wembley...
1. Yaya Toure seals it for City
Jurgen Klopp sat alone in the stands, knowing he could do nothing about his team's fate. And for the first time in Liverpool's history, at the sixth time of asking, they lost a cup final on penalties. Willy Caballero was the hero for Manchester City, saving spot-kicks from Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana. It fell to Yaya Toure to convert the winner.
In winning their fourth League Cup, City had ridden out a comeback from Liverpool, who equalised just when it seemed Manuel Pellegrini's team, and their superior talent, had seen out the day. With Klopp's team set for disappointment in normal time, Daniel Sturridge crossed the ball from the right, Adam Lallana then crashed the ball off the post and Coutinho surged onto the loose ball to force an 83rd minute equaliser and extra-time. The Brazilian playmaker briefly helped spare the blushes of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who had disastrously let Fernandinho score City's goal through his legs in the 49th minute.
Until Liverpool's desperate surge for an equaliser, City had dominated the midfield, with Jordan Henderson especially suffering against Toure and Fernando. Until his contribution to the equaliser, Sturridge received little joy against his old club, whose defence -- flaky and vulnerable for much of the Premier League season -- looked redoubtable with captain Vincent Kompany partnering Nicolas Otamendi in its centre.
It took Mignolet's mistake to light a fire under Liverpool though had Raheem Sterling not missed a truly golden close-range chance, presented on the hour mark by a combination of Yaya Toure and David Silva, the affair would have been over. Pellegrini was a picture of amazement at Sterling's miss but soon brimmed with rage when what looked a penalty-box foul by Alberto Moreno on Sergio Aguero was waved away by referee Michael Oliver.
Rarely a manager to mess with a winning formula, Pellegrini retained the selection and structure of the team that won 3-1 at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, with Fernandino on the right flank and Silva pushed through the middle to play off Aguero. The ersatz right-winger excelled though he did suffer the embarrassment of missing City's first kick of the shoot-out.
The Chilean's protest-worthy selection at Chelsea a week ago, when he fielded a team of five debutants, had been made to preserve legs for that Champions League assignment and Wembley but Liverpool, who began the game with the same team that beat Augsburg on Thursday, were able to match their energy levels in an extra-time period that ebbed inexorably towards spot-kicks.
Once there, history suggested that Liverpool would triumph. Instead, Caballero became the unlikely hero and Toure and Pellegrini could celebrate what may end being their final trophy at City before Pep Guardiola assumes control this summer.
2. Caballero the hero, Mignolet the fall guy
Would Pellegrini's show of loyalty to goalkeeper Willy Caballero prove misguided? It was a leading question in the build-up. The Argentine stopper previously served his manager with distinction at Malaga and had played in each of the previous rounds of the competition. Yet last week's catastrophic performance in a 5-1 defeat FA Cup defeat at Chelsea explicitly suggested he must be a weak point.
Caballero was tested as soon as 36 seconds in by a Moreno cross/shot and dealt well enough with that, but Liverpool did not land a shot on him for the rest of the first half as chances were either snatched at or blocked by a defence in which Kompany dominated.
Pretty blameless for the equaliser, he waited until the 88th minute to make his next save from a deflected drive from Henderson, before denying a goal bound header from sub Divock Origi in the 110th minute. Caballero's moment would come in the shoot-out but opposite number Mignolet had already established himself as the fall guy. It was unfair to the Belgian, who partially redeemed himself with some big stops in extra time before being unable to deny Jesus Navas, Aguero and Toure during the shoot-out that followed.
Klopp looked had looked none too impressed after Fernandinho's goal, but his faith, not shared by many Liverpool fans, looked it might eventually be repaid. The Belgian's 24th-minute save to turn an Aguero shot onto the post was superlative, a reminder that he can be sometimes a fine reflex keeper, but City's goal was a personal catastrophe. Liverpool fans howled in rage when the stadium big screen showed the replay.
Sweet salvation briefly seemed possible when Mignolet clawed away a Fernandinho snap shot that would have made it 2-1 with five minutes to play in normal time, and when making an 105th minute save one-on-one with Aguero. The reckoning, though, lay beyond extra-time, where Caballero won the battle of the distrusted goalkeepers.
3. Lucas and Kolo tough it out at the back
The initial selection of Lucas at centre-back looked harsh on Kolo Toure, who was outstanding in both legs of Liverpool's semi-final with Stoke. Yet it soon revealed itself as Klopp's attempt to give his team some ball-playing ability out of defence, not to mention a good use of the Brazilian's keen anticipation to deny Aguero's running.
Lucas also offers leadership, a quality so often lacking in Liverpool's defence since the retirement of Jamie Carragher but as a converted midfielder, he is not quite Javier Mascherano, the former Liverpool colleague who has won two Champions Leagues with Barcelona after dropping back into defence.
In the end, it was moot. Mamadou Sakho's 25th-minute removal after suffering a concussion in a clash of heads with team-mate Emre Can -- he thrashed a water bottle in frustration as he made his way to the bench -- meant the introduction of Kolo to face brother Yaya and his old club, and he was applauded onto the field by both sets of fans. James Milner was also received warmly by City fans. Sterling meanwhile, considered a traitor for deserting Anfield for the Etihad last summer, was by contrast booed on his every touch and loudly jeered for his inexplicable miss.
With Liverpool relying on the counter and City controlling midfield, Lucas and Toure were put through a heavy workload by those ahead of them not being capable of doing enough to protect them. Only the benevolence of the referee stopped had Lucas being booked for a 42nd minute foul on Aguero that was both late and high, while Liverpool's defence were unable to stop the Argentine supplying the key pass for Fernandino to score City's goal.
Silva and Aguero seemed just too cute and too evasive for a makeshift partnership of the veteran Toure and the stand-in Lucas but together the pair toughed it out, heroic in defeat.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.