Lucas Leiva superb in defence, but Liverpool lose to Man City in cup final
The law of averages finally caught up with Liverpool, as they suffered a rare defeat in a cup final penalty shootout. Of the past 10 cup finals the Reds have appeared in, they won four of them after penalties; they needed two shootouts to reach Sunday's final. That kind of run can't go on forever, and Manchester City finally succeeded where so many others failed.
Simon Mignolet's howler allowed Fernandinho to open the scoring four minutes into the second half, but Philippe Coutinho equalised with seven minutes remaining to force extra time. Both sides could have won it in that period, and both sides led charmed lives at times.
City's No. 2 goalkeeper, Willy Caballero, had been a controversial selection by Manuel Pellegrini, but he repaid his manager's faith by saving three of the four penalties he faced to break Liverpool hearts and make himself the unlikely hero.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Simon Mignolet, 6 -- This was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from the Belgian, who made two outstanding saves to deny Sergio Aguero but was horribly at fault for City's goal, as he allowed a shot from Fernandinho to squirm under his body. He went the right way for every penalty in the shootout but had no chance of reaching any of them as City's takers found the corners with unerring accuracy.
DF Nathaniel Clyne, 7 -- This was a strong display from the ultra reliable full-back, who kept the disappointing Raheem Sterling very quiet. He worked hard up and down the right flank and was a reliable outlet throughout.
DF Lucas Leiva, 8 -- Selected to start in defense over Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure, the Brazilian justified Jurgen Klopp's faith with another fine display. He read the game impeccably, used the ball efficiently and won countless headers, despite his relative lack of height. He is no longer a "makeshift defender" -- he's the real deal. It was cruel that he should be one of those to miss in the shootout, as he was the best player on the field for 120 minutes.
DF Mamadou Sakho, 6 -- The Frenchman cut a disconsolate figure after being forced off midway through the first half, following a clash of heads with Emre Can. Klopp tried to give him some time to clear the cobwebs, but he was clearly disorientated, and when he almost fell over while trying to stop Sergio Aguero, that was the signal for him to be substituted. He was initially furious and then simply devastated, but frankly, Klopp had little choice.
DF Alberto Moreno, 4 -- The pacy Spaniard began the game brightly enough and looked useful going forward, but as soon as he was asked to do any defending, he was found wanting. He was a complete liability at times -- he should have been penalized for a blatant trip of Aguero in the box and was incredibly fortunate that referee Michael Oliver waved away City's appeals. Within minutes of that escape, he conceded a dangerous free kick on the edge of the box after he attempted to tackle Fernandinho from the wrong side, and it was no surprise when he was replaced by Adam Lallana. He might find his place under threat from Jon Flanagan and Brad Smith in the coming weeks.
MF Emre Can, 7 -- He covered an awful lot of ground up and down the field and did a fine job winning possession in the middle of the park. He was not much of a factor creatively, but his defensive teammates will be appreciative of the screening job he did in front of them. He showed a remarkably cool head with a "Panenka" penalty to begin the shootout.
MF Jordan Henderson, 6 -- As with Can, most of his best work came in picking up second balls and making interceptions in midfield. This was far from his best, but his performances of late have been gradually improving, which suggests that perhaps his injury problems are receding. Surprisingly, he was not involved in the shootout, even though he began this season as Liverpool's designated penalty-taker.
MF James Milner, 6 -- He got through a lot of diligent defensive work and made one brilliant block to deny Nicolas Otamendi in the first half. He wasted a good opportunity when he shot wide and otherwise made little impression in attacking areas until he was moved to left-back as Moreno was withdrawn. Coming from a deeper position, he had more space to operate, made several dangerous forays into the City box and delivered some dangerous crosses. That said, his set pieces were utterly dreadful once again.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- He took an awfully long time to make any impression on the game as Liverpool's attack failed to ignite, but when a chance eventually came his way, he made no mistake and fired home a rebound after Adam Lallana's shot came back off the post. He failed to hold his nerve in the shootout when he stuttered his run-up to commit Caballero, but when the keeper didn't bite, Coutinho produced a tame shot that was easily saved.
MF Roberto Firmino, 5 -- This was a disappointing performance by the Brazilian. He was busy enough and always showed for the ball but was repeatedly caught offside and generally made no impact in the final third. Eventually, he was replaced by Divock Origi.
FW Daniel Sturridge, 5 -- He never really got into the game, and the only moment of quality he produced in 120 minutes was the cross that led to the equalizing goal. He repeatedly held onto the ball too long and seemed to be playing much deeper than usual. Klopp had to leave him on for the duration, having already used his three substitutes, but in truth, he was a virtual passenger in extra time and repeatedly gave away possession.
DF Kolo Toure, 7 -- It was somewhat unfortunate that he didn't make the starting XI, given his recent good form, but it wasn't long until he was thrown into the fray following Sakho's unfortunate accident. He defended in his customary, no-nonsense style and didn't put a foot wrong. Certainly, he did not deserve to be on the losing side in what is likely to be his last Wembley Cup Final.
MF Adam Lallana, 6 -- As with Origi, he certainly made a difference in what had been a lacklustre Liverpool performance prior to his introduction. He provided fresh legs when they were desperately needed and kept possession well. He nipped in at the back post to get on the end of Sturridge's cross and was unlucky to see the ball come back off the post before Coutinho followed up to score. He was harshly booked for the crime of taking exception to a nasty lunge by Yaya Toure.
FW Divock Origi, 6 -- The game changed after his introduction, even if it was not due directly to anything he produced with the ball. Having another player in forward areas who was willing to run in behind and give the City defense something else to think about gave Liverpool a big lift. The youngster was unlucky to not win the game in extra time when he soared above two defenders but saw Caballero push his powerful header away.