The stage management was all planned out, with the lights dimmed and a silvery moon rising in the corner of the stadium as it does on the big Manchester City occasions. Yet this looked what it was: staged.
The 36,000 attendance and the empty seats showed how three cup semi-finals in as many years can take a sobering effect, especially for a club who are looking to take on the world.
Liverpool were a different story. They have a particular affinity with the League Cup, a competition in which their seven triumphs surpass any other side, and the prospect merely of going down to compete for it in February carries another rich significance. It would be their first appearance at Wembley since the Spice Boys of 1996 trod the turf in their white suits before facing Manchester United. For Steven Gerrard, a giant character as well as the match winner in Liverpool's victory last night, and for Jamie Carragher, wearing Liverpool's colours at the national stadium will be an entirely new experience, after all these years.
Carragher may actually miss out if they make it. His belated appearance as a midfield substitute – and in the League Cup at that – would have hurt here, 15 years to the day since his full debut against West Ham United at Anfield. Martin Skrtel did him no favours. The part he played last night in deterring Sergio Aguero from inflicting the same damage he had when these sides met in the Premier League eight days earlier bore out the way he has grown as a player under Kenny Dalglish's management.
It was not always a clash of equals. But when the Slovakian failed, there was always back-up option: a defensive collective build on the kind of principles which made Liverpool great. When Samir Nasri had eased past Skrtel and found Aguero, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly bustled around the striker to smother his threat. When Aguero, in turn, stepped beyond Gerrard, Glen Johnson tackled fearlessly, from a treacherous spot inside the box.
There was sleight of hand when required. Charlie Adam was in Mario Balotelli's ear to help distract him. But this win was as purposeful as the Liverpool songs which commanded the stadium at the end. They have not lost one of their 13 League Cup semi-final ties at Anfield, where no stage management will be required for the return.Reuse content