The League Cup may not hold the appeal it once did, marginalised in England as the once proud UEFA Cup has been in continental play (though when it comes to re-branding, England's second cup competition got there first—it's been changing its name for thirty years now). From the first competition in 1960 through its first six years, the final was a two-legged home-and-home affair. Since 1967 and through six corporate name changes that kicked off in 1982 when it became the Milk Cup, however, it has been capped by a single match at a neutral venue.
Usually that has meant a trip to London to visit Wembley—at least aside from an extended stretch to start the new century when the reconstruction of England's national home forced a shift to Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. And usually—or at least more usually than for anybody else—it has been a final that involves Liverpool, with no club having made it to the end as often as the Reds. Liverpool's ten appearances and seven wins are both records in the League Cup, with Aston Villa's five victories on eight appearances and Manchester United's four on eight following.
Meanwhile, Arsenal's defeat at the hands of Championship side Birmingham City last season gave them a record fifth loss in the League Cup final, nudging them past Manchester United when the two had been sitting level on four losses apiece. It's a result Liverpool's players and fans would do well to remember in the days ahead, a cocky Arsenal side taking their underdog opponent lightly and losing out on the chance to snap their own trophy drought before following it up by being dumped from the FA Cup and dropping out of contention for the Premier League title.
Digging a little further back, Liverpool's first appearance in the League Cup didn't come until 1978, and when it did it ended in disappointment. First they drew 0-0 with Nottingham Forest at Wembley, and then a replay at Old Trafford saw the West Bridgford side take the trophy home with a 1-0 victory.
Liverpool made it back to the finals in 1981, and once again the match went to a replay after drawing 1-1 with West Ham at Wembley. This time around, though, a trip to Villa Park would see Liverpool take home their first League Cup trophy as they dispatched the Championship side 2-1. It would also kick off a run of four straight victories in the League cup, as they beat Tottenham 3-1 in 1982, Manchester United 2-1 in 1983, and Everton 1-0 in a replay in 1984.
That run of success would be followed by a dry spell of more than a decade, with Liverpool's only return to the finals seeing them lose out 2-1 to Arsenal in 1987 before getting back to their winning ways in 1995 with a 2-1 victory over Bolton. They then started out the new millennium with victories over Birmingham on penalties in 2001 after organisers consigned replays to the dust bin and a 2-0 win over Manchester United in 2003.
Along with Liverpool's last appearance in the League Cup finals, a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in 2005, all three of the most recent appearances were at Millennium Stadium. In recent months this has helped fuel a somewhat misleading narrative about Liverpool's long absence from Wembley as though it has been a lack of success in the cups that has kept them from visiting. While it's true that Liverpool haven't been to Wembley since 1995, those three finals in the early 2000s would all have seen them there had the stadium been available.
In the end, it may not be the Champions League or the Premier League title, and it may not even be in the same category as the FA Cup or rebranded UEFA Cup, but the League Cup is a competition with a significant role in Liverpool's history. Moreover, given the competition defeated to reach this season's finals, with victories over strong Stoke, Chelsea, and Manchester City sides, it would be misleading to suggest Liverpool has somehow waltzed to an easy final of a cup nobody especially cares about.
It also isn't a competition that ended when Liverpool dispatched City over two legs in January. Arsenal made the mistake of thinking they'd won last season's competition before the final kicked off, and Liverpool could easily follow them down the road to failure if they don't take Cardiff seriously enough. But worrying about Sunday isn't something to concern ourselves with quite yet, and before the match rolls around we'll spend the next few days revisiting Liverpool's seven League Cup victories to date while hoping they can soon add an eighth to the list.
With that in mind, we'll be posting frequent quick-hits of video covering those past finals over the next few days, starting in a few hours with the 1981 victory over West Ham United that saw Liverpool secure their first League Cup trophy. Hopefully you'll join us in reliving a bit of history.