Familiar foes Liverpool and Chelsea to renew rivalry in Carabao Cup final

By Sports Desk February 21, 2024

Familiarity, so the saying goes, breeds contempt, but for Liverpool and Chelsea it has resulted in a war of attrition.

The two teams have met 17 times since September 2018 and, on the three occasions those have been finals, each one has gone to penalties, with Liverpool victorious in all three.

And, while Sunday’s reunion at Wembley is a repeat of the 2022 Carabao Cup final, which had an epic shoot-out settled by Reds goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher scoring his side’s 11th attempt and Kepa Arrizabalaga missing his, there are few similarities with that afternoon.

Injuries and key departures mean Liverpool, the record nine-time winners, will be able to field just five of the starting XI from that day; Chelsea can put out just two after a huge churn of players during a billion-pound spending spree in the interim.

The final represents the first moment of significance in Jurgen Klopp’s long goodbye after his decision to step down at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Chelsea have burned through three managers in Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard before giving Mauricio Pochettino the chance to arrest their gradual decline.

And it has been a decline.

When the pair met two years ago Liverpool were second in the Premier League table, chasing Manchester City in a brilliant title race which they lost by a point despite racking up 92 of them, while Chelsea were third, albeit 10 points behind.

But, despite their recent upturn in form, this time the Stamford Bridge side are 22 points adrift of the table-topping Reds in 10th.

Liverpool, competing on four fronts, are favourites, having lost just twice to domestic opponents, and, last month’s blip at Arsenal aside, Klopp has restored his squad’s competitiveness, even if they are not quite hitting the heights of that 2021/22 season.

However, injuries have hit at the wrong time, with influential players like full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, forward Diogo Jota, midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai and goalkeeper Alisson Becker already ruled out of the showpiece.

That may be just the opening Chelsea need after they were ripped apart 4-1 at Anfield barely a month ago.

There followed a 4-2 home defeat to Wolves four days later, after which they became one of the few teams to win at Villa Park while earning a creditable draw at Manchester City last weekend.

They appear to have played themselves into some form and Pochettino will look to build on that as he seeks to redress the balance against Klopp, against whom he has won just once in 12 meetings, and gain a small measure of revenge for the Champions League final defeat in Madrid in 2019 as Tottenham manager.

The Argentinian is desperate to end his trophy drought with English clubs in his seventh season in the country and silence some of the critics who are just starting to question his credentials again, having failed to spark a revival at Stamford Bridge, despite the massive investment in the playing squad.

That January Anfield defeat ended a run of seven successive draws between the two sides and, with all factors considered, that points to another close Wembley encounter – and possibly penalties yet again.

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    Wataru Endo says Liverpool need an immediate reaction to a pair of disappointing results that have damaged Jurgen Klopp’s hopes of making a triumphant farewell.

    Last weekend’s 2-2 draw at rivals Manchester United dented the Reds’ Premier League title bid as an intense three-way tussle for the crown continues.

    Worse was to follow on Thursday night as Liverpool collapsed 3-0 at home to Atalanta in a shock Europa League quarter-final first-leg defeat.

    Klopp’s men face an almighty challenge to turn things around in Italy next week, but first comes Sunday’s Anfield encounter Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

    “It’s tough,” midfielder Endo said after the shock Atalanta result. “I think they did very well offensively and defensively, they had good tactics and they played well so we need to work hard.

    “But we have one more game before we play Atalanta next and we need to react now. It is always about how we react, it is about the results.

    “Another game is coming so it is just about getting ready for that and we need to step it up to try and win.

    “It is always a tough opponent but we play at Anfield again, so we have to start strongly and offensively we have to make it better. Better than the last few games, yes.

    “I am glad the game is coming this quickly because we have a chance to win again quickly so we just get ready and we want to win the game.”

    Endo says the Reds must move forward with positivity, which should be made easier by the fact key players are returning for the run-in.

    Diogo Jota came on for his first appearance in two months on Thursday, when Trent Alexander-Arnold and Stefan Bajcetic were unused substitutes.

    Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker is also back in training and Endo said: “It is a positive that almost everyone is coming back to play.

    “I think we are fine and we will stick together and try and win the next game.”

  • Real Madrid stay eight points clear after narrow win over Mallorca Real Madrid stay eight points clear after narrow win over Mallorca

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    France midfielder Tchouameni broke the deadlock early in the second half as Real extended their unbeaten league run to 25 matches and after arch-rivals Barcelona’s win later on Saturday night, the gap remains eight points.

    The two sides meet in El Clasico next Sunday and Barca also remain in top form as they made it six straight wins in all competitions after Joao Felix’s first-half overhead kick secured all three points in Cadiz.

    Barcelona were indebted to goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for their win as the German goalkeeper made two crucial saves to deny Cadiz pair Javi Hernandez and Diadie Samassekou.

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    Griezmann’s first-half penalty cancelled out Artem Dovbyk’s early opener for Girona and Angel Correa headed Atletico into the lead in stoppage time before the break.

    France forward Griezmann added his 12th league goal of the season early in the second period as Girona slipped to their fifth defeat in eight league matches.

    Rayo Vallecano edged six points clear of the relegation zone after being held 0-0 at home by Getafe.

    In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich got their domestic campaign back on track as second-half goals from Raphael Guerreiro and Thomas Muller sealed a 2-0 home win against Cologne.

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    Dani Olmo, Benjamin Sesko and Lois Openda were on target for Leipzig in their 3-0 home win against Wolfsburg and Dortmund held on to win 2-1 at Borussia Monchengladbach despite the second-half dismissal of Germany winger Karim Adeyemi.

    Marcel Sabitzer gave Dortmund the lead and then converted a penalty before Max Wober hit back for the hosts before the interval.

    Adeyemi’s second yellow card left Dortmund with 10 men for most of the second period, but they held on.

    Third-placed Stuttgart extended their unbeaten run to nine matches with a 3-0 home win against Eintracht Frankfurt.

    Serhou Guirassy, Deniz Undav and Jamie Leweling were all on target in the first half for Stuttgart, who are level on points with Bayern.

    Mainz boosted their survival hopes with a 4-1 home win over Hoffenheim, which made it 10 points from their last four matches and lifted them to within a point of Bochum, who drew 1-1 against Heidenheim.

    In Serie A, Juventus failed to close the gap on second-placed Milan after they were held 0-0 by derby rivals Torino.

    Juve have won only one of their last six domestic league matches and are five points behind Milan and 19 adrift of leaders Inter, with the top two both in action on Sunday.

    Fourth-placed Bologna failed to capitalise on Juve’s dropped points as they were also held to a goalless stalemate at home against Monza, while Nicola Sansone’s late goal clinched Lecce a 1-0 home win against Empoli.

    In Ligue 1, Reims’ hopes of European football next season were dealt a blow as they lost 3-1 at Strasbourg and Rennes had a setback in their bid for a top-six finish after losing 2-1 at home to Toulouse.

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    The Argentinian could be without 11 players for Monday’s game against Everton, with Enzo Fernandez and Raheem Sterling the latest doubts for the meeting at Stamford Bridge.

    It has been the club’s first campaign without European competition since 2016/17, and only their second since 1996/97, following a 12th-place finish in the Premier League last season.

    An unbeaten run of seven games, their longest in the league for almost 18 months, has put them in contention to reach either the Europa League or Conference League, whilst they could also qualify by winning the FA Cup.

    But Pochettino said the team’s injury problems will need to be addressed if they are to take on more games next season.

    “Imagine if we had played in Europe this season, with all the circumstances (injuries)? Oh my goodness,” said the 52-year-old.

    “With a squad that is always between eight and 10 players missing in every single game. If you add more games, we would struggle a lot.

    “Now it’s about experience, to have all the information to try to help the club to take the best decisions to avoid things like happened this season.

    “That is out principal focus, to try to define a squad that can be fit, or have more than 80 per cent availability.”

    Teams in previous seasons have benefited from having a season without European competition, taking time to regroup before following up with much improved campaigns the following year.

    Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14 came within two points of winning the title whilst not having to contend with a European schedule, whilst Chelsea were crowned champions under Antonio Conte in 2016/17 a year after finishing 10th.

    Mikel Arteta led Arsenal to a fifth-place finish in 2021/22, the club’s first without Europe in 26 years, during which the team showed significant progress that has led to them challenging for the title in consecutive seasons.

    Pochettino countered that the situation at Chelsea, whose owners have spent over £1billion on assembling a young and largely inexperienced squad, cannot be compared to previous examples.

    “Now, it’s completely different,” he said. “You cannot compare to Conte or Brendan Rodgers, it’s not fair. We are in a different Chelsea today.

    “The conversation is always to win the next game, then the next and then the next, and see in which position we arrive.

    “To have targets is always good. But to have a target it is to have all the elements on (your) side. With all the circumstances we are living (with injuries), it’s about trying to be competitive in the next game, not to put objectives that maybe you will get very frustrated if you don’t win some games that you are supposed to win.”

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