By Christopher Boulay
While Liverpool has won several trophies in the past 16 years, it hasn’t been to Wembley since then. That was the 1996 FA Cup final – a 1-0 loss to Manchester United. The “Old Wembley” was shut down in 2000, and subsequently rebuilt. While it has been open since 2007, Liverpool hasn’t been to a domestic cup final since 2006 – a penalty shootout win against West Ham for the FA Cup.
So when the club takes the pitch on Sunday against Championship side Cardiff City, it is likely going to be a very emotional atmosphere.
Wembley is the place where every English child with footballing aspirations hopes to play. Some select members of the Liverpool squad will get to live out their dreams on Sunday. The one that springs to mind more than any other is Steven Gerrard. The captain has not played for Liverpool at Wembley, and will likely finally get his opportunity. To add to the fanfare, he will be playing on the other side of his cousin, Anthony. The 26-year-old Cardiff defender has never played in a competitive match with Steven, as he recently told the BBC. The last time the two played football together was in their backyards as kids, so this match should have slightly more importance for the two Liverpudlians.
Aside from the Gerrards, the match will have special significance to Craig Bellamy, especially if he receives the nod from manager Kenny Dalglish. Bellamy grew up supporting Cardiff City as a boy in Wales, and spend the 2010-11 season with the Bluebirds on loan from Manchester City. However, at the end of last season, Cardiff was unable to sign Bellamy permanently, as he instead chose to return to Liverpool for a second spell.
Despite the two clubs being in different levels of the pyramid, it is important not to underestimate Cardiff. The club – managed by Malky Mackay – is currently in the sixth position in The Championship, and is a near-certain contender for a promotion place. In addition, a tough 3-0 loss to Ipswich Town last Saturday will make the club hungry to prove a point against Liverpool – the most successful League Cup side in history.
Regardless of the result, this is the best Cardiff has ever finished in the League Cup, as its previous best was when it reached the semi-finals in 1966. The club is not a stranger to success, but it has not been something that can be considered frequent for the Bluebirds. The club won the First Division in 1924, the FA Cup in 1927, three Second Division title, one Third Division title, one Fourth division title and the Charity Shield in 1927.
For the Reds, a strong back line can be expected, as Daniel Agger is available for selection. In addition, Bellamy is nursing a back issue, but should be OK to play. Jonjo Shelvey will not be able to be selected for the remainder of the season, as he has been loaned out to Middlesbrough.
For Cardiff, Kenny Miller and Peter Whittingham may be the most difficult to deal with, as they both have scored 10 goals for the Bluebirds this season. In addition, Mark Hudson – the club’s captain – may be unavailable due to injury.
This could be the first trophy Dalglish obtains in his second spell as Liverpool manager. It could also be the spark the club needs to continue its charge toward fourth place and a Champions League spot. With the win, the club is on pace for a domestic double, as it is scheduled to play Stoke City in the FA Cup in March.
Liverpool v Cardiff City
When: Sunday, February 26 1600 BST/ 1100 ET
Where: Wembley, London
Table: Liverpool 7th in Premier League (39 points), Cardiff City 6th in Championship (53 points)
League Cup Semi-finals: Liverpool defeated Manchester City, Cardiff City defeated Crystal Palace
Projected Cardiff City Starting 11:
DEF: McNaughton, Hudson, Gerrard, Turner
MF: Kiss, Whittingham, Cowie, Gunnarsson
FW: Miller, Mason
Subs from: Marshall, Taylor, McPhail, Conway, Vukcic, Blake, Earnshaw
Projected Liverpool Starting 11:
DEF: Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique
MF: Kuyt, Gerrard, Adam, Downing
FW: Suarez, Bellamy
Subs from: Doni, Carragher, Flanagan, Kelly, Wilson, Robinson, Maxi, Spearing, Henderson, Carroll