The Capital One Cup has become something of an afterthought in English football. No one really takes it seriously but then the last-eight comes along and everyone suddenly wants to win it.
Early in the season the League Cup is seen as a distraction, something that gets in the way of building a title charge, staving off relegation or making the top four. However, as soon as any of the perceived bigger sides get to the business end of the competition it is seen as a catalyst and a way of kick-starting the run-in of the Premier League campaign. It’s no surprise that the previous two winners of this competition have gone on to lift the league title.
This competition has produced some superb finals since the turn of the century, with the underdog story alive and well on numerous occasions.
Ahead of Liverpool’s clash with Manchester City we look at the best League Cup finals since the year 2000.
Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool – 2005
This was probably the greatest final of the bunch and can possibly lay claim to being the greatest League Cup showpiece in history.
This game saw Jose Mourinho secure his first piece of Chelsea silverware. It sparked into life inside a minute as John Arne Riise opened the scoring and Liverpool held on for nigh-on 90 minutes until Steven Gerrard headed an own goal to take us to extra-time. The Blues grabbed goals through Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman and Antonio Nunes grabbed a consolation 60 seconds from time but the Pensioners held on.
A debut trophy, an England star scoring an own goal, extra-time and Mourinho almost inciting a riot by sssshing the Liverpool fans. Perfect final.
Birmingham 2-1 Arsenal – 2011
Five years ago and Arsenal had not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. This was their year. In their way was a Birmingham side containing such footballing giants as Roger Johnson, Martin Jiarnek and Keith Fahey. Even the Gunners couldn’t make a mess of this. Oh, but they really, really could.
This was a Blues side without their best defender in Scott Dann and arguably their three most creative players in James McFadden, Alexander Hleb and David Bentley. However, they somehow overcame a horrendously nervous Arsenal outfit.
The Midlands side had a fair goal disallowed early but Nicola Zigic gave them the lead before Robin van Persie hit back. In the last minute the mercurial Obafemi Martins capitalised on a mix-up between Laurent Kosicielny and Wojciech Szczesny to poke home in a moment that symbolised a campaign in which the Gunners would fail to win anything once again.
Liverpool 2-2 Cardiff City – 2012
Liverpool’s last two League Cup finals have been absolute thrillers. It took seven years for them to get back after the loss to Chelsea and they very nearly blew it against Championship side Cardiff City.
It was the Bluebirds who broke the deadlock through Joe Mason before Martin Skrtel equalised. Extra-time came and Dirk Kuyt looked to have won it until, on 118 minutes, Ben Turner grabbed an equaliser.
The penalty shoot-out brought even more drama with Liverpool missing their first two spot-kicks, including one from Steven Gerrard. However, it was the former England captain’s cousin, Anthony, who faltered, handing the Merseysiders the trophy.
Swansea 5-0 Bradford City – 2013
Ok, this was far from a classic but the fact that a League Two side made the final of a cup competition means it deserves its place in this list.
The Bantams became the first bottom tier club to reach the League Cup final since Rochdale in 1962 after defeating Premier League teams Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa on an incredible journey to Wembley.
The game itself saw them outclassed by Swansea as doubles from De Guzman and Dyer plus a strike from Michu brushed them aside as City ‘keeper Matt Duke saw red the 50th minute. Nevertheless, the story gripped the nation, meaning the likes of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby are names that will forever be associated with that incredible run.
Manchester City 3-1 Sunderland – 2014
This game was a cracker that should not be dismissed simply because the heavy favourites won 3-1. Sunderland had spent the vast majority of the season in the bottom three, as has become common place, and were given no chance at all by pretty much anyone outside of the city.
It came as something of a shock as the Black Cats took the lead. Fabio Borini got the opener after just 10 minutes and the north-east club went on to frustrate City until a Yaya Toure thunderbolt sparked City inot life and inspired the Citizens to victory.
This win played a massive part in the Manchester club winning their second Premier League title, as at the time they were six points from the summit and in fourth place.