Klopp and Pellegrini clash as Liverpool face Man City for Capital One Cup
The first silverware of the season is up for grabs Sunday, when Liverpool face Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final.
Jurgen Klopp has the opportunity to win his first trophy in charge of Liverpool, while Manuel Pellegrini is looking to win the cup for the second time and make it three trophies in three years as City boss.
Steven Kelly (Liverpool) and Simon Curtis (Manchester City) preview the clash at Wembley.
Sum up each side's form ahead of this one
Steven Kelly: There are only five wins all calendar year, one against Exeter and three more against relegation-threatened Norwich, Aston Villa and Bundesliga side Augsburg. Given that the game at Wembley will be their energy-sapping 16th of 2016, against title contenders and probably Champions League quarterfinalists City, the evidence isn't encouraging.
Liverpool thrashed City 4-1 on their own ground this season, but it's doubtful they'll face such disinterested opposition at Wembley.
Klopp's men typically play better with Daniel Sturridge, but the process of easing him back into full-time football is taking time. That might mean that a game of this importance comes too quickly for him, but with his presence vital to Liverpool's chances, he'll hardly be dropped.
Simon Curtis: City are worrying. Before the exemplary performance Wednesday in Kiev, the youngsters had been thrashed at Stamford Bridge 5-1 in the FA Cup, and two vital home games were lost to Leicester and Tottenham in the league.
But the Champions League win in the round of 16 first leg was a highly effective exercise in confidence-building for the weekend. That said, form has been in and out all season, and in that respect, little has changed in recent weeks. It is, therefore, slightly difficult to decide whether this is the start of big things or merely another bump in a fluctuating graph.
Who needs this trophy more?
SK: City seem at a stage where the Capital One Cup won't cut it, whereas Liverpool will take anything they can get.
Winning this cup can only be secondary to both clubs' long-term aims. Even in this decade of underachievement, Liverpool always take a green-eyed glance upward to where they think they belong. It's "only the League Cup" in the buildup, but when the noise level rises and you get your first glimpse of managers and players emerging from the tunnel at Wembley it'll mean everything in the world.
SC: I wouldn't say the City supporters necessarily think the League Cup doesn't cut it. City have a rich history in this tournament, with three finals in the '70s, Dennis Tueart's iconic overhead kick winner against Newcastle in 1976 and the 2014 success versus Sunderland.
Having said that, Liverpool clearly need it more. No trophies in four years and the nagging feeling that the league title remains beyond their power. The new regime under Klopp needs something tangible to get the revolution rolling.
Klopp has time, while Pellegrini's clock is ticking. It is essential to begin the run-in to the final stretch of the Premier League and later stages of the Champions League with confidence running high. Although perhaps not the importance of the cup itself, winning it could galvanise the rest of the season. Pellegrini's legacy depends on it.
What would a win do for your season?
SK: It would mean an injection of confidence for the remaining games.
Liverpool's main target after Sunday, whatever the result, will be saving face by finishing in respectable Premier League position. Their form in the Europa League has been patchy, and drawing Manchester United seems like a massive practical joke -- with no fans laughing.
A win Sunday would give everyone a lift and would dilute the idea of 12 more league games being merely an obligation. Everyone knows Klopp will be making changes in the summer and has on occasion promised supporters a wild ride.
Those players who want to remain on board will have to buckle up and knuckle down. It's clear that if anyone is going in summer, the manager won't be one of them.
SC: This would be the catalyst City need. The 3-1 win in Kiev has started the ball rolling nicely. Now they must carry that self-belief to Wembley. Beating Liverpool is in and of itself enough of a rarity to be a shot in the arm.
However, beating City's hoodoo side to win a trophy would be even more of a boost. You can never play down the importance of confidence in football. Time and again, we see great sides suddenly lose their way because their confidence is shot by unexpected adversity. This intangible commodity should be in good supply this weekend, and success would only serve to launch City towards the closing weeks of the season in just the right frame of mind.
SK: A lot of fans hope it's not Raheem Sterling who causes mayhem. It's not clear why that is important -- bitterness, probably -- it just is. When Liverpool most recently lost a cup final -- to Chelsea in 2012 -- at least Fernando Torres played no part in it. The hurt of defeat was bad enough. Adding insult with a former idol in the forefront of victory would have been too much.
You can get at City's back four. Numerous sides have proven that this season, particularly Liverpool in November. Klopp might even be tempted to duplicate that night's front three of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, thus saving Sturridge for if the game remains tight late.
SC: There will be key battles all over the park, but it is how the unsung players perform that will decide this one. Aside from the battle between a jittery Willy Caballero and a lively, shot-happy Liverpool attack, the key battle will be in midfield.
If Fernando can maintain the form he showed in the Ukraine, it will have a twofold positive effect on City's game plan. In Kiev, his nicking of possession was crucial in robbing the home side of momentum and setting up City's own forward movement.
Being able to rely on him doing such a job allowed Yaya Toure a roving brief, which brought out the performance of the season from the big man. City's midfield anchor must get to grips with Liverpool's likely early pressing. If they are allowed to run riot, as they did in November at the Etihad, City could be looking at a large-scale disaster.
SK: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City. The world's worst tipster always gets it wrong, but I'm tired of assuming the worst. Liverpool in a way owe their fans a proper treat, and in this season of shocks, they might still provide one.
SC: Liverpool 2-3 Manchester City. There will be early jitters, goals at both ends and a final score in doubt going into the last seconds.