Much of the chatter so far has centred on Craig Bellamy’s relationship with Cardiff and Liverpool’s first appearance at Wembley since that infamous white suit fiasco in 1996.
The Carling Cup occupies a strange place in the psyche of British football. It’s a trophy and a ticket to European football, but expressing a desire to win it at the start of the season is an early warning sign of dementia. Through the first, second, third and fourth rounds and maybe even as far as the quarter-final, it’s talked of as a horrid but necessary obligation. Like a dental appointment, but without the chance of a post-examination lollipop. Getting knocked out of the Carling Cup it is spun as a blessing. Joe Manager dishes out the line: “I’m not upset. Now we can concentrate all our efforts on finishing in mid-table obscurity.” It’s a regular occurrence in the post-match fare.
Something happens if the interest extends to the semi-finals and beyond, however. A sort of forgivable hypocrisy takes hold of managers, players and fans. A competition that a few weeks back was about as desirable as a dose of chlamydia, suddenly transforms into an object of desire and lust. “This means everything for the club,” someone of perceived authority will say during the closing stages which carries with it the subtext: “Ignore all those times when we fielded the kids and the crappy players we’re desperately trying sell.”
In fairness, Liverpool have treated it with respect this year and in other years. They’ve almost always fielded something approaching their strongest team, if only because there’s no point resting players for non-existent Europa League matches. Likewise, Cardiff have battled through four batches of extra time and two penalty shoot-outs to reach the final. It suggests they’re more arsed than most involved in the competition.
Looking back at the last 10 finals, the variety and origin of the finalists is remarkable, particularly if you’ve been accustomed to the Premier League where just four teams start the season with realistic chances of silverware and we’re lucky if that’s two or more come January. There’s also one other curious trend as illustrated by the fancy Over The Line graph below.
The proliferation of 2-1 victories in the Carling Cup Finals of the last 10 years is odd. ‘How Sven Goran Eriksson still gets work’ odd. In the last decade, the most minor of the major trophies deciders, 2-1 has been the scoreline at the end on six occasions – five times after 90 minutes worth of action and once more after extra time. That’s 50% or 60%, depending on how you look at it. Either way it’s a strangely high occurrence of the score.
Part of that is down to the fact that despite the big teams apparently not caring for the competition, they end up in the final rather a lot. Even when one less fancied team reaches the final, very often it coincides with another less high profile team being there, for example when Bolton and Middlesbrough met in 2004 or when relegation-destined Birmingham went up against the loveable losers of Arsenal last year.
The reason might have something to do with the lack of total mismatches in the last few years. Man United’s trouncing of Wigan was the exception rather than the rule. Snide comments aside, on paper Arsenal should have had a fairly comfortable afternoon against Birmingham 12 months ago, but their silverware drought continued thanks to a rare comedic defensive mix-up that has become a lot less rare in the intervening period. Based on recent form, you might think Blackburn’s win over Tottenham looks like it should have been an easy win for Spurs, but cast your mind back to anytime that’s not the last two years and you’ll recall that Spurs were actually a bit rubbish back then.
Cup finals seem to be cagey affairs with not much to separate the teams at the end. Even if one team is expected to dominate, it may not work out that way. Caution is advised, especially when it comes to Liverpool.
– Carling Cup Final Betting