So here we go. It’s very straightforward really or as the late Brian Moore said, before that game against Arsenal at Anfield in 1989, “a night of chilling simplicity”. It is not as vital but all we have to do is avoid defeat tonight and we book our first visit to the new Wembley and our first domestic cup final since 2006.
The last time we “graced” the Carling Cup final was the year before against Chelsea. This was in the same year we won the Champions League. Is it any coincidence that we have advanced this far in the competition in a year when we are out of Europe, priorities and all that? We lost on that day (2-3) however on the whole this is a tournament that has been kind to us. We’ve appeared in ten finals and won seven of them, this is still a record. Overcome tonight’s hurdle and many, with due respect to Cardiff City, will expect to see us increase that to eight. However, this is a weight of expectation that can dealt with if it needs to be dealt with suffice to say we are not there yet and this tie is far from over, very far from over.
I guess through not being in Europe the Carling Cup has taken on increased importance for us this season. Even so perhaps it would have been tempting not to give it the full attention in the earlier rounds but we are now at the stage, one game away from the final, were it seems to be as serious as any game or competition. We’ve had to work fairly hard to get here beating Stoke and Chelsea and none of our ties have been at Anfield actually, come to think of it, perhaps that is just as well given our league form there!
Although we have a 1-0 lead, thanks to Steven Gerrard’s penalty at the Etihad – click here for match report, the clubs go into this tie with mixed fortunes. City must be buoyed by their vital win against Spurs on Sunday a psychological blow in terms of the title which is also matched by the return of David Silva, who was missing from the first leg due to injury? We on the other hand come into this game off the back of probably our worst performance of the season, a weak 3-1 capitulation to Bolton.
Looking back over my match report of this game I began to think that perhaps I was a tad eager to criticise the team. Maybe I should support them more, encourage then constructively, what is there to be gained through criticism? However, sometimes you just snap and lose patience I guess I can take some solace from the fact that Kenny also saw fit pull down protective barriers and let the team have it! Perhaps, with his rare public criticism ringing in their ears, this will be the ideal opportunity for the players to bounce back and show everyone what we, and they, know they can do. If Kenny’s words have any resilience they should deliver as this is the game that was allegedly distracting them at the Reebok? I wouldn’t necessarily say that tonight they owe to the fans after Saturday but it would be a gratefully received gesture!
A repeat of the defensive performance against Bolton will surely see us done for? Bolton made us pay and, with respect, they are no City. Saturday’s performance was in stark contrast to that of the first leg where having taken the game to City and got our goal, we shut up shop for the final part of the game and held them at bay. Hopefully we will see similar tenacity and organisation tonight? I see why we can’t, on the whole the defence has been our saving grace this season helping out our impotency in front of goal with some decent performances, I therefore prefer to think of the Bolton performance as an “out of character” aberration!
Tactically I guess we have something of a conundrum. City have to attack to turn the tie around so it’s almost pre-defined for them. For us it is a trying to strike a tricky balance of protecting what we have and perhaps killing off the game with another goal, not an easy task for us these days! Perhaps we will see a repeat of the first leg with us taking the game to City and then battening down the hatches in the final bit, then there is the issue of any goal that City should score in extra time counting double? Whatever the case I don’t fancy us trying to defend for ninety minutes, not after Saturday anyway!
Team wise and although City have Silva back, Kompany is still banned. Presumably Savic, who looked shaky in the first leg, will continue to deputise. The Toure’s are in Africa (sounds like your neighbours who have gone on holiday!) and Mario Balotelli may miss out if he decides not to appeal against his Sunday stamp, I am the only one who thinks he was trying to get out of the way? For us Jay Spearing remains a doubt but one wonders what changes Kenny will make after Saturday? Maybe it’s not the right time but he must be tempted to make a few if only to give those he regarded as underperforming a lesson?
Prediction? Tactically we fielded a defensive line up in the league against City however, despite flooding the field with defenders towards the end of the game, the opening line up for the first leg was fairly positive. So I guess there is no real point in trying to predict our approach, just as long as we get something from the game? I believe we will via a 1-1 draw however, I have a feeling that it could be a long and tortuous night, sit tight kept the faith!