Liverpool 1 Coutinho 83'
Man City 1 Fernandinho 49'
Before taking the reins at Borussia Dortmund, and long before becoming one of the hottest names on wishlists for clubs changing managers, Jürgen Klopp famously led Mainz 05 twice to the precipice of Bundesliga promotion before reaching the promised land. On more than one occasion, Klopp has referred to that promotion as being, at least in his mind, the first "trophy" he won during his managerial career. For such a famously successful manager, Klopp knows very well that winning is an extraordinarily difficult thing, and that more often than not, it is built on a foundation of painful losses.
If Liverpool do eventually find success with Klopp in the future, today's
Milk Coca-Cola Worthington The Other One League Cup final loss against Manchester City will almost certainly have a place in that foundation. Against a more talented and deeper squad, but one that they had vanquished emphatically in the recent past, Liverpool laboured valiantly at Wembley before succumbing to Willy Caballero's goalkeeping heroics. In doing so, they provided a capsule summary of their season so far, at times displaying brilliance, and at others, familiar shortcomings.
Klopp promised before the match that the players would show their desire to win. On this promise, at least, Liverpool delivered. From the opening whistle there was a healthy amount of trademark aggression, but that was to be expected. Encouragingly for Liverpool supporters, the front three of Sturridge, Firmino and Coutinho combined in eye-catching fashion, inviting the fullbacks to join the raids. Alberto Moreno was the first beneficiary, latching on to a Sturridge flick in the first minute to force a save from Caballero.
City were content to weather the early storm, and after Sterling won a free kick just outside the box on the left, began to assert themselves more forcefully in this contest. This was a match full of activity and events, all of which somehow conspired to generate very little football of the quality that both sides are capable of showing. As Liverpool's initial incisiveness appeared to have been blunted, the focus turned to the very physical contests between Lucas and Aguero, on the one hand, and Clyne vs. Sterling on the other.
Both Aguero and Sterling, the latter clearly with something to prove against his former club, caused panic each time they sashayed forward, but Lucas and Clyne proved their equals, at least in terms of tenacity. Indeed, Lucas at centreback was something of a revelation, at least in the early going. Though the experiment was no longer a novelty, Lucas continued to magically appear where Liverpool needed him most, harrying, blocking and clearing.
A painful accidental clash of heads between Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho soon after the first quarter of an hour preceded a spell of ascendancy for City, which culminated in an Aguero shot that Mignolet was just barely able to turn onto the post. With Sakho appearing to struggle in the wake of his knock, Liverpool took no chances and brought on Kolo Toure for Sakho, much to the latter's displeasure.
Both teams had their chances after the substitution. A lazier recap might say that it was "end-to-end stuff" at that point, but nobody likes a sports cliché, so let's just say both teams were competing to show "who wanted it more." City looked disturbingly lethal almost every time they broke forward, with a certain David Silva growing more comfortably into his game, which is never a good sign for the opposition.
Somehow, the players trudged off at halftime with the scoreline still at 0-0, though it wasn't for lack of trying. There were no changes when City kicked off the second half, but a few trends that had started to emerge late in the first half picked up their pace. Jordan Henderson, though quietly effective, had also been guilty of more than one misplaced pass, and it was his error that allowed City to break and find Aguero in space. Aguero's shot was ultimately pedestrian, and Lucas and Mignolet were happy to see it fly harmlessly over.
City had, however, been doing a progressively better job of finding David Silva in space, and this eventually cost Liverpool. Allowed the room to dictate proceedings, Silva was able to start a move that culminated in Aguero finding a roaming Fernandinho, who slotted home under Mignolet's body. The angle was tight but the shot was almost directly at the Liverpool keeper, who will justifiably have been upset at not doing better.
To their credit, Liverpool shook off the setback and pressed hard in search of an equalizer. If nothing else, a willingness to fight on in the face of adversity has also been a hallmark of Liverpool under Klopp. Milner and Sturridge started off a sequence of "almost" plays and "nearly" goalscoring opportunities for both sides, with Liverpool's No. 7 unable to find the target after Sturridge played him in.
Next, Raheem Sterling sought to emulate Manchester United goalscoring legend Marcus Rashford, but could only summon up Raheem Sterling levels of finishing ability and shot wide with the goalmouth at his mercy. Moments later, it was Aguero's turn to be clear on goal when an outstretched Alberto Moreno leg seemed to have brought him down in the area. The defender's flailing effort looked foolish in retrospect, and referee Michael Oliver's only defence for not blowing the whistle will have been that it looked as though Moreno had knocked the ball free.
With City in control and Liverpool not quite on the back foot, but also not doing anything of note, Klopp brought on Adam Lallana for Moreno in the 71st minute. Divock Origi followed in the 80th minute, replacing Roberto Firmino. The fresh legs and new threat started to pay dividends, and when Daniel Sturridge fired in a low cross after some pinging and ponging in the box, Lallana cleverly passed to Coutinho using the City post (at least that's how Lallana will describe it to his grandchildren). Coutinho powered home from twelve yards, and Liverpool were level.
Liverpool's goal precipitated an even more frantic closing ten minutes. Fatigue and pressure led to more nearly moments for both sides, but nerves and goalkeepers held firm. Mignolet, in particular, seized the opportunity to reshape the narrative following his part in City's goal, and reeled off a string of impressive reflex saves that ensured the teams were level when Michael Oliver called full time.
When extra time commenced, Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas replaced Bacary Sagna and Fernando respectively. Mignolet continued his string of saves, this time denying Aguero, while Caballero was also forced into action against Divock Origi. The spectre of penalties seemed, however, depressingly inevitable, and sure enough, extra time elapsed without further goals. It was here that Caballero decided to play hero, while Liverpool were unable to sustain the coolness they had displayed in earlier shootouts in this competition. Lucas, Coutinho and Lallana were denied, and after Yaya Touré converted, City added another trophy to collection, while Liverpool returned to the waiting lounge.
"If my first success was promotion with Mainz then I really had to learn the hard way. To not get what you want twice and to then have to go a third time, that was hard," Klopp once said of his first managerial opportunity. A bit of perspective is perhaps warranted when looking back on to this defeat. Liverpool have no small amount of work to do in the last remaining fixtures and over the summer, but today will have provided clearer indication of what needs to be done. As the manager himself put it, "you have to feel a defeat, you can't say it wasn't important. You always have to strike back."