KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will stalk neighbouring technical areas for the 14th but not necessarily last time in English football in the League Cup Final.

Both managers and their Liverpool and Chelsea teams are still alive and optimistic in the FA Cup with the quarter-finals beckoning: next Wednesday should see Liverpool win at home to Southampton and Chelsea win at home to Leeds.

Not that either Klopp or Pochettino will be thinking that far ahead when they walk out at Wembley. They are old friends and rivals, sharing mutual respect for a belief in attacking, entertaining, enterprising football. For the 56-year-old German this has usually meant winning football; for the 51-year-old Argentinian mostly losing football.

Klopp arrived in October 2015, some 17 months after Pochettino had been appointed by Tottenham. He has won seven of their duels, Pochettino only one, with five draws. The fifth draw was the 1-1 stalemate on the opening day of the current season. Liverpool won the return 4-1 at Anfield in January.

Trophies? A clean sweep for Klopp. He has celebrated six major trophies with Liverpool while Pochettino drew a blank at Tottenham including the 2019 Champions League Final defeat against Klopp’s Reds.

In normal circumstances Pochettino would not be expected to turn the tide on Sunday after Chelsea’s disappointingly erratic season. They sit 10th the Premier League, a full 22 points behind leaders Liverpool.

However Chelsea go to Wembley for the first final of the Todd Boehly era encouraged by victories away to Aston Villa in the FA Cup and at Crystal Palace in the league followed by a 1-1 draw at Manchester City. Even more significant than improving morale may be the depth of Liverpool’s latest injury crisis.

Casualties

This is nothing new for Klopp. Much of his Anfield reign has been framed by a casualty list inevitable from the all-action commitment he demands of his players. Thus Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez are subjects of constant concern in a week which Liverpool’s medical start began with nine players unavailable and a string of youngsters on standby.

Salah made his comeback from a hamstring injury he suffered during the Africa Cup of Nations as a substitute in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Brentford. The 31-year-old complained of fatigue after the game while Nunez had to be was substituted at half-time, as a precaution after a muscle strain.

Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones suffered knee and ankle problems respectively during the Brentford game while Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones incurred knee and ankle problems respectively during the match. Jota is probably out for the rest of the season. Goalkeeper Alisson missed the game with a hamstring injury, giving ‘cup keeper’ Caoimhin Kelleher more match practice ahead of Wembley.

Other casualties include Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dominik Szoboszlai, Thiago Alcantara, Stefan Bajcetic, Joel Matip and Ben Doak.

Dilemma

Chelsea were spared the problems of a midweek match in the run-up to the final. They miss England rightback Reece James while Brazilian veteran Thiago Silva faces a late fitness check and Pochettino must decide whether to recall Robert Sanchez in goal after injury. That might seem tough on Djordje Petrovic who has been outstanding in the Blues’ last 10 matches.

Liverpool expect to be in the Champions League next season so Chelsea, to return to Europe via the UEFA Conference League play-off round, must end a run of defeats in their last five major domestic cup finals.

These include the 2022 League Cup Final which saw Liverpool win 11-10 on penalties after a goalless draw. Chelsea had also lost on penalties in 2019 to Manchester City. Same story in the FA Cup. Chelsea fell to Arsenal and Leicester in 2020 and 2021 and then to Liverpool on penalties yet again in 2022.

For the record, Liverpool have won the League Cup a record nine times compared with Chelsea’s five successes. Pochettino must think that, for so many reasons, it is long overdue time for his – and his team’s luck – luck to change.

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