In its earliest stages, the League Cup can seem an afterthought. Domestic cup competitions fall some way down the pecking order. Always behind the league itself, for clubs in leagues that aspire to European success, the likes of the DFB Cup in Germany or the Copa del Rey in Spain cannot compete for prestige. In England, the League Cup and its ever-changing sponsor branding has it even worse, falling behind even the FA Cup.
For any club that enters the new year and the second half of the season still in it, though, it becomes something worthy of winning. Get to January and you’re in the semi-finals; one of four sides still in the running. This year, one of Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, or Sheffield United will lift the trophy at Wembley, and having got this far, Philippe Coutinho is determined that it should be Liverpool doing the celebrating on the 1st of March.
"I’ve never played at Wembley and it’s always been an ambition of mine," the midfielder told the Liverpool Echo. "It would be so special to walk out there for the first time in a Cup final. Everyone is excited about the prospect of playing at Wembley and we want to take this opportunity. Chelsea are a great side who are very difficult to play against but we’re in good form and we want to get through. We all want to lift that trophy."
Having dominated the league in the first half of the season and five points up on second place Manchester City as things stand, Chelsea are favourites. Chelsea, though, have often been favoured when facing Liverpool in one cup competition or another over the past decade, and results haven’t always gone their way. A narrow defeat in November is also cause for confidence as Coutinho sees it, with Liverpool having improved since then.
"Probably the major difference now compared to then is the confidence in the team," he said. "It’s pretty much the same players but we are feeling much more confident now. It has got higher and higher with the positive results. The team is now in a much better moment than the last time we faced Chelsea. We’re performing better and have improved out game, and so hopefully this time we can beat them."