Lee Dixon: Liverpool to edge Carling Cup final
Luis Suarez has a chance to make the headlines for the right reasons on Sunday
"I think Cardiff will put up a decent fight but the occasion and also the size of the pitch will go against them. Big, open spaces will play into Liverpool’s hands and fitness may play a part in the latter stages of the game as well."
Steven Gerrard will be the one lifting the Carling Cup at the end of 90 minutes but this won't be easy and a single goal may well decide matters. Luis Suarez could be the man to get it, says Lee Dixon.
Football fans will be scratching their heads trying to understand how the same Liverpool side who are struggling so much in the league can be doing so well in the two domestic cups. They're red hot favourites to win the Carling Cup and they're joint-favourites to win the FA Cup, alongside Tottenham. And before you start saying that's only because the two Manchesters are out, let's remember that it was Liverpool themselves who dumped Manchester United out of the competition!
Of course a game of football in a cup competition is the same as one in the league. It's still 22 players trying to score more than the opposition. But the difference is in the mentality. A draw and a subsequent replay may be seen as a good result in the Cup whereas that same draw in the league may be viewed as a disappointment. And whereas sometimes in the league you feel that you're not necessarily working towards an ultimate goal, with a Cup there's always a feeling of "two more matches and we're going to Wembley". Maybe Liverpool have become a little disillusioned with the way things have gone in the Premier League but this match is a chance to win some silverware early on and relieve some of the pressure in what has been a tough season for them.
Cardiff fully deserve this Cup final. It's never easy to make it this far as a team from outside the Premier League. In Peter Whittingham, who was the feature of this week's Big Interview, Cardiff have a proper match-winner and they'll need a big performance out of him if they're to have a chance here.
I was interested to see him highlight the importance of Mark Hudson being fit for the game. They'll miss his leadership and experience badly if he doesn't pass a late fitness test.
As for Liverpool, I've been impressed with their defence recently. The more they've played together, the more they've developed an understanding. You can have the best defenders in the world in your team but if you don't play as a unit, you'll always be vulnerable.
This is a big game for Steven Gerrard. He's had a difficult season with injuries and if we're honest, after returning to full fitness he hasn't played to the standard we expect of him. If he's to be given the England captaincy, and he's favourite to get it, the first thing he needs to do is make sure that he's an automatic choice in England's XI. A Cup final is a good chance to put in a big, eye-catching performance in the heart of midfield and Gerrard knows that. He's had good experiences of finals before and has actually played some of his best matches in them.
I think Cardiff will put up a decent fight but the occasion and also the size of the pitch will go against them. Big, open spaces will play into Liverpool's hands and fitness may play a part in the latter stages of the game as well. I'm pretty confident Gerard will be the one lifting the Cup when all is said and done and I think they can do it inside 90 minutes ([1.4]) but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Cardiff can hold them till the break so draw/Liverpool is a good option at [4.9].
I've praised Liverpool's defence already and there's actually been a trend for low-scoring finals in English football over the past few years, many ending 1-0. That scoreline to Liverpool is a decent possibility but under 2.5 goals is a far more confident selection. I would have expected this to have been odds-on so the [2.12] definitely represents value.
Logic dictates that if this is going to be a low-scoring game, we're better off going for a first goalscorer than a player to score at anytime. Luis Suarez scored on his return from suspension against Manchester United and looked extremely lively against Brighton. He's the focus of Liverpool's attack and the obvious choice to open the scoring but at [5.8] he's still a decent price.
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