Liverpool, Man City meet for first trophy
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
Barely four months after arriving at Liverpool, Juergen Klopp could turn a season of transition into one of silverware and keep up the club's strong tradition in the English League Cup.
The first trophy of the English season is on offer when Liverpool face Manchester City in the League Cup final on Sunday.
Fuelled by cash from Abu Dhabi since 2008, City are starting to make a habit of reaching title matches at Wembley Stadium. That was once the case for Liverpool, too. But the Reds - England's dominant force in the 1970s and '80s - have fallen on hard times over the past decade, during which time they have collected only one trophy: A record-extending eighth League Cup in 2012.
Four years without a title is too long for a team of Liverpool's heritage, but a successful era might just be around the corner under the popular Klopp, who has made a big impression since replacing Brendan Rodgers in October.
A DECADE OF SUCCESS
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has compared the club's situation to that of Chelsea, which won the League Cup in 2005 - their first season under JosÈ Mourinho - to spark a decade of success domestically and in Europe.
"I remember for Chelsea a few years back, it was the League Cup they won and after that they managed to win a lot of trophies," Mignolet said. "It gives everybody a confidence boost when you win your first trophy for a long time.
"For this young group of lads, I think it could be something that pushes us on to be even hungrier for trophies."
City are bidding for their fifth trophy since 2011 and first of a possible three this season in manager Manuel Pellegrini's last year before being replaced by Pep Guardiola. City is six points off the lead in the Premier League and took a big step towards the Champions League quarter-finals by beating Dynamo Kiev 3-1 on Wednesday.
The teams last met in November, when Liverpool beat City 4-1 away. Klopp's tactics of pressing from the front, giving City's defence and deep-lying midfielders no time on the ball, worked perfectly and the margin of victory could have been bigger.
An attacking trio of playmakers Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana were the chief protagonists of Liverpool's big win at Etihad Stadium in November, with their relentless hounding of City's ball-playing defenders causing errors.
While mindful of that, Klopp may still choose to go with a different front line as Daniel Sturridge is fit after a long run of injuries.
Klopp has previously spoken of his frustration over Sturridge's injury problems, saying he needs to play through his problems, while critics say the England striker needs to toughen up.
"To say a player doesn't want to play is the biggest disrespect you could ever say to a footballer," Sturridge said. "I don't think anyone will understand how much it means to me to play football."
The Liverpool loss was one of a number of heavy defeats sustained by City this season, but captain Vincent Kompany's recent return from injury has boosted the team ahead of a busy end to the season.
There are also eight games in the Premier League this weekend, headlined by Manchester United playing Arsenal.
After two weeks off, Leicester should be refreshed at home against Norwich tomorrow as the unlikely Premier League leaders look to revive their title challenge that stalled with a loss at Arsenal last time out.
Leicester have a two-point lead over second-place Tottenham, who are at home to Swansea on Sunday. Third-place Arsenal are also two points behind, while Man City are in fourth place.
While their title rivals are all competing in Europe and have congested schedules, Leicester can focus solely on the Premier League strengthening their bid for perhaps the most unpredictable league title victory in the history of English soccer.
With Man City not in Premier League action, Man United can trim the gap to the top four to three points by beating Arsenal. Anything other than a win could see United passed by Southampton (at home to Chelsea) and West Ham (at home to Sunderland), who play tomorrow.