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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    The former Manchester City player now has 20 for the campaign and dismantled Sean Dyche’s side almost single-handedly, netting a hat-trick inside the first 29 minutes to breathe genuine momentum into his team’s bid to qualify for Europe.

    This was as complete a first half as Chelsea have managed under Mauricio Pochettino, displaying a clinical edge in front of goal that made the insipid attacking displays of earlier in the season feel like a distant memory.

    It was also a night for individuals. Moises Caicedo at the base of midfield gave a performance full of guile and maturity; rarely had he looked so in command in Chelsea colours.

    Nicolas Jackson, who scored the fourth goal, and Mykhailo Mudryk were superb, further turning the tide of opinion in their favour after slow starts to their careers in blue.

    Then there was Palmer, Chelsea’s talisman, who is surely now a contender to challenge his former Manchester City team-mate Erling Haaland for the Golden Boot.

    This was not a perfect 90 minutes and there are still issues for Pochettino to address. When his team were given a penalty at 4-0 up in the second half, there was the unsavoury spectacle of a physical altercation as Jackson and Noni Madueke each tried to take the ball from the appointed taker Palmer. It pointed to a failure of discipline and leadership that the manager must surely address.

    But it could not sour a fine night for home fans in west London, capped off fittingly when academy graduate Alfie Gilchrist fired in his first goal for the club in stoppage time.

    Chelsea had started the game sluggishly, narrowly avoiding going behind after nine minutes when Beto missed the target from four yards.

    As so often this season it required intervention from Palmer to shake them to life. Receiving the ball deep from Malo Gusto, he impudently nutmegged Jarrad Branthwaite, played a one-two with Jackson, then curled his finish wide of the dive of Jordan Pickford for his first goal of a remarkable first half.

    Soon the floodgates were open. After 17 minutes, Mudryk was played in down the left by Jackson who, receiving it back from the Ukrainian, shot first time. Pickford beat the ball out, but only to the feet of the arriving Palmer who grabbed his second.

    His finish for 3-0 was exquisite, but the opportunity came gift-wrapped from Pickford. The England goalkeeper tried to pick out Amadou Onana but came up short with his pass. In nipped Palmer and, undaunted by the 45-yard distance to goal, lobbed it into the net for his hat-trick.

    Jackson made it four before the break, showing exquisite touch to drag Marc Cucurella’s cross out of the air before turning and guiding the ball beyond the goalkeeper’s grasp into the corner.

    The 22-year-old has shown significant improvement in recent weeks, and his 13th goal of the season was surely his best so far for Chelsea.

    Palmer argued away Jackson and Madueke to make it five from the penalty spot just past the hour mark, then Gilchrist drilled into the bottom corner from Pickford’s parry at the death, as Chelsea moved to within three points of the top six.

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    The other said Garnacho “had a poor first half but taking him off at half time and holding him up as the problem is a joke”.

    Garnacho swiftly ‘unliked’ both messages – an action the club believes shows contrition – and a United source told the PA news agency the matter had been dealt with internally.

    In September Jadon Sancho’s post on X, saying he had been made a “scapegoat” and “I will not allow people saying things that (are) completely untrue” – interpreted as accusing Ten Hag of misrepresenting reasons why the winger was not in the side – led to the 24-year-old being banished from the first team before being loaned to Borussia Dortmund in January.

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    Kaheim Dixon, the talented young footballer currently representing Arnett Gardens in the Jamaica Premier League, is preparing to make a crucial decision about his future once the season concludes. Dixon, who has garnered interest from several European clubs and who has a preference for playing in Belgium, is weighing his options as he looks to further his career on the international stage.

    An exciting prospect while playing for DaCosta Cup champions, Clarendon College, Dixon's impressive performances on the field have caught the attention of scouts and club representatives, sparking discussions about potential opportunities abroad. With a strong desire to continue his development in a competitive environment, Dixon sees Europe as an ideal destination to advance his skills with Belgium being his preferred destination.

    "I'm focused on finishing the Jamaica Premier League season with Arnett Gardens before considering my next move," Dixon told Sportsmax.TV.

    Dixon's decision-making process will involve consultations with his club officials and discussions with his family to determine the best path forward for his career but explains his preference for where he would like to end up.

    "Playing in Belgium appeals to me because of their commitment to developing young players."

    Dixon made his senior debut for Jamaica’s Reggae Boys during the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Nations League against regional powerhouse, the United States and acquitted himself fairly well. His performance also convinced him that he is ready to play professional football.

    Reflecting on his CONCACAF Nations League campaign, Dixon shared insights from his experience. "I learned a lot. You have to be disciplined on and off the field," Dixon remarked. "In the game, you have to adjust quickly; only dribble in the attacking third."

    In response to the interest from European clubs, Dixon acknowledged the opportunity but stressed the need for continuous improvement. For now, though, he remains focused on winning the Jamaica Premier League title for Arnett Gardens.

    "It's a good thing that clubs are interested, but I've still got to improve on my season as well," he said.

     

     

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