Liverpool vs Manchester City - Capital One Cup final report: Willy Caballero's shoot-out heroics earn penalties win

Liverpool 1 Manchester City 1 (Manchester City win Capital One Cup 3-1 on penalties)

What a difference a week makes. Seven days after being derided as a calamity goalkeeper following a 5-1 FA Cup hammering at Chelsea, Willy Caballero was carried aloft around Wembley by his team-mates after his penalty shoot-out heroics claimed the Capital One Cup for  Manchester City.

Having kept faith in the Argentine for this final against Liverpool ahead of England No 1 Joe Hart in order to extend Caballero’s run in this competition, City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s faith was repaid with three saves – from Lucas, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana – before Yaya Touré won the cup with his successful spot-kick.

Pellegrini will now hand over the reins at City to Pep Guardiola this summer having won at least three trophies in three seasons at the Etihad Stadium – more could yet follow in the Premier League and Champions League.

But Pellegrini’s decision to retain Cabellero was a big one  which could have backfired had Liverpool denied his team arguably their best chance of silverware this season.

It paid off, though, and the understated Chilean cradled the League Cup at the end of the game as Jürgen Klopp was left to contemplate a rebuilding job at Anfield without the benefit of an early trophy to accelerate his plans.

Raheem Sterling, who left Liverpool in an acrimonious £49m transfer last summer, will certainly have enjoyed Caballero’s performance after missing two clear chances to win the game for City prior to Coutinho’s second-half equaliser.

But it was a trophy City deserved to win as Liverpool, having won their last three major trophies via penalty shoot-outs, experienced the other side of the coin.

For all the American-style pre-match razzmatazz of ear-piercing music and pitchside pyrotechnics, the first-minute raid forward by Liverpool, when Alberto Moreno forced Caballero to smother the ball in the six-yard box, proved something of a false indicator as to how the opening period would play out.

Perhaps it was down to European fatigue that the first half proved such a slow-burner. Liverpool had been in Europa League action less than 72 hours earlier against Augsburg at Anfield, while City’s players touched down at Manchester Airport at 4.20am on Thursday following their 3-1 Champions League victory against Dynamo Kiev in the Ukrainian capital.

With the added the tension of this being the most likely piece of silverware for both clubs, the two sets of players struggled to ignite the first major final of the season.

So after Moreno had sprinted down the left before unleashing his cross-shot towards goal after 40 seconds, the game became a battle for territorial dominance and it was 22 minutes before the next chance materialised.

It was a good one too and Liverpool were indebted to Mignolet for denying Sergio Aguero the opening goal for Pellegrini’s team.

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Manchester City celebrate Fernandinho's opener

Aguero, so often the man who delivers on the big occasion for City, had raced towards the Liverpool penalty area before rounding Mamadou Sakho, who had stumbled to the ground suffering the after-effects of an earlier clash of heads with Emre Can.

With only Mignolet to beat, Aguero shot towards the far corner, but the Belgian  goalkeeper produced a fine fingertip save to push the ball on to the post.

Moments later, Klopp replaced Sakho with Kolo Touré as the centre-half was unable to continue. But while Mignolet’s save was a moment for the cameras, it did not set the game alight and chances continued to prove elusive.

Roberto Firmino shot wide and Sterling, predictably jeered by the Liverpool supporters whenever he touched the ball, saw a goal-bound shot blocked by David Silva as the Spaniard ran across goal.

But they were half-chances and the game carried the air of a boxing bout between two fighters reluctant to move on to the front foot.

Yet just as the first half drifted into stoppage time, Coutinho spurned a clear chance to score when he volleyed across the face of goal after Daniel Sturridge’s header had put him clear 12 yards out.

It was a rushed effort and Liverpool were to pay for the miss when Fernandinho put City ahead, four minutes into the second half.

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Philippe Coutinho celebrates his late equaliser

Although Mignolet’s mistake proved the key moment, it was Silva’s pass to Aguero which stretched the Liverpool defence, enabling the City forward to hold the ball long enough for Fernandinho to receive it on the overlap.

The Brazilian spotted his opportunity and struck a crisp, right-foot effort towards the near post. Mignolet appeared to have it covered, but the ball squirmed under his body and into the net in front of the City supporters.

A hero in the first half with his save from Aguero, Mignolet was now the fall-guy. Such is the unenviable lot of the goalkeeper and, having taken the lead, City grew  in stature.

Liverpool lacked the energy, zip and creativity to force their way back into the game and Sturridge’s lack of fitness began to tell as the injury-ravaged forward struggling to escape the formidable City defensive pairing of  Vincent Kompany and  Nicolas Otamendi.

City, in contrast, gathered momentum and a second goal appeared an inevitability. Sterling should have delivered the killer blow on 60 minutes, but having been picked out unmarked by Silva on the edge of the six-yard box, the 21-year-old somehow scuffed his shot wide.

Liverpool then survived a strong City penalty claim when Moreno tripped Aguero, who was felled by the Spaniard’s trailing leg. Sterling then missed another simple chance after being freed  by Aguero. 

 Liverpool appeared dead on their feet but the missed chances kept them in the game. And when City failed to clear danger in the 83rd minute, Coutinho equalised after Adam Lallana had struck the post.

Extra-time was a tense exchange of half-chances, with Mignolet and Caballero both producing crucial saves, most notably Caballero’s stop from Divock Origi’s header in the 118th minute.

Inevitably the game drifted towards penalties and, after Fernandinho had struck the post, Jesus Navas, Aguero and Touré converted successfully to win the game.

City’s challenge now is to ensure an even more glittering exit for Pellegrini by claiming a bigger pot before the season is out.

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