The League Cup has had its detractors in the past. Me being one of them actually. Extra midweek games when not in European action were something I used to see as a nuisance and a possible distraction to bigger and better things.
The harsh reality is that after six years, Liverpool are not in any position where we can afford to be picky. A trophy is a trophy, and this is no Intertoto Cup. This is the first domestic silverware of the season. But more importantly this is a fantastic opportunity for us to use this cup success as a springboard for the rest of the season.
Our history points to the Carling Cup as something we use to instil confidence, instil belief and instil success into our seasons. I’ll use recent history as the best example.
In 2001, a very laboured penalty shoot-out victory over Birmingham City (I can still hear Trevor Francis crying about Henchoz’s tackle on Johnson) was to kick us on to a second domestic cup final as well as the UEFA Cup and the then all important third place in the league and the subsequent Champions League place that came with it.
In 2005, we appeared in the Carling Cup final, but lost 3-2 to Chelsea after extra-time. Now, whilst we didn’t get the job done that day (but we were going to until Gerrard’s unfortunate intervention), it was a cup final. You have to have been doing something right to get there in the first place. We later went on to go to Istanbul and write arguably the most glorious page in our history book. I genuinely believe our day in the final was a contributing factor to helping us get there. The pain of losing a final isn’t something you want repeated should you get to one again.
Naturally, we’re going to have our knockers. “Mickey Mouse Cup” will be one you’ll hear a lot in the coming days I imagine. But look at it like this to offer yourself, as well as some of these people a touch of perspective. We are already in Europe and we have already won a trophy more our rivals. Whilst what other teams get up to doesn’t bother me, we have ended our much vaunted trophy drought. Arsenal aren’t going to do that this season. Wenger’s comments a few weeks ago are going to squarely bite him on his bespectacled behind.
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Arsenal would kill to win the Carling Cup. They went hell for leather for it last season and their (admittedly unfortunate) defeat to Birmingham City really derailed their season. Twelve months on, the Gunners still have a mental fragility that can be exploited. I believe their loss in that game, and their lack of trophies as a result, is a massive reason behind this.
We however can call ourselves “winners.” There are bigger and there are more prestigious trophies that we can win. The FA Cup being the prime example. We have a fantastic chance to go out there and get the job done against Stoke and get to another semi-final. We now have the knowhow and the experience to get the job done at the famous old (new?!) ground, and there are only a handful of teams in this country that can say that. In the event of a semi-final, that will stand us in good stead because we know won’t be overawed by the occasion. We won’t freeze under the massive arch and we won’t be haunted by memories of failures past.
This, of course not mentioning that European football is now secured. I might get stick for it, but I believe the Europa League is an inconvenience. Two games in three days, with one of those games away in Europe somewhere, isn’t a good fit for a successful league campaign in my book. But if we don’t get 4th (and even if we beat Arsenal on Saturday we’re going to have to go at a serious clip to obtain that) we are guaranteed a table, even if it’s not necessarily at the best restaurant in town. We could use that competition to blood the likes of Sterling, Wisdom and Suso if we so wanted to in order to give them a chance to rise above the stagnant and frankly poor standard of reserve league football. We have secured that opportunity now. With Newcastle sniffing around and our league form inconsistent, that’s some pressure off us in case we finish outside European qualification places in league terms.
Either way, let them knock and let them moan about penalty shootouts. At the end of the day, we’ve got the job done again. We deserved to win, even if we let them off the hook with 3 minutes of extra time to go, much to the expense of my blood pressure. Enjoy our success. It’s taken six years since that FA Cup win. I am going to enjoy it, I am going to smile about it and I am hopeful the club will seize on it as a chance to go out and play with belief for the rest of the season.
By the way, if you saw that bright light as you were leaving London last night, that wasn’t a plane landing at Heathrow. It was Charlie Adam’s penalty entering its orbit.
Still, things could be worse couldn’t they? You could be an Arsenal fan.
In the unlikely event you want to hear more from Dan, you can follow him on twitter (@TLW1Dan) and you can also catch him as a regular writer in The Liverpool Way fanzine and on TLW forums. Please be aware that any content from Dan may contain sarcasm.