It may not have been pretty or convincing, but Sunday saw Liverpool break their six-year silverware drought with victory over Cardiff at Wembley. Rewind just one year, and it was Arsenal who found themselves as losing finalists, in a defeat which saw the wheels well and truly come of off their season. Looking at this it shows just how important victory for the Reds, and the trophy won, could be for the rest of their campaign.
The Carling Cup gets a bit of a tough rap nowadays, often dubbed as the FA Cup’s ugly sibling, a competition which rather than desired, is seen as an unnecessary distraction. To some extent this may be true, but there is no underestimating the importance of winning and the confidence it brings, especially at the business end of a competition. Kenny Dalglish and his men will be looking to use this in their quest to get back into the Champions League and attract new players to the club.
As their rivals continue to stutter in their charge for fourth spot, due to a combination of factors, the Anfield men are entering what could be their best from of the season. Last campaign Liverpool struggled before Christmas, failing to find form and subsequently slipping down the table. This soon changed after January, with the men in red putting together an impressive run to finish in sixth spot, narrowly missing out on Europa League football. Admittedly last term saw the ill fated reign of Roy Hodgson contribute heavily to the poor start, but history has a habit of repeating itself, and without the burden of European football and an increasing sense of belief, its not out of the question that Liverpool could put a similar run together.
Another factor in Liverpool’s favour is the return of a full strength squad, after the suspension of Luis Suarez and the long-term injuries of Steven Gerrard. Dalglish has now been able to link up his absentees with £35 million striker Andy Carroll, which has been somewhat of a rarity under the Scots tenure. The combination of these three men could prove to be a difference in the run for fourth, with both Chelsea and Arsenal suffering losses of form and Newcastle, arguably, not having the depth of squad to maintain a challenge. Suarez has been impressive since his return to the squad, netting on his first start at Old Trafford and following this with a header in the 6-1 FA Cup triumph over Brighton, this has been coupled with the return of Gerrard to full fitness and Carroll beginning to find his goal scoring touch.
The run in FA Cup has also contributed to the positive feeling around the club, with high scoring victories over Oldham and Brighton as well as a dramatic win against Manchester United. A home draw against Stoke City now awaits the reds in the Quarter-final of the competition, a game which Dalglish will surely feel is winnable. Although some of the Premier League’s big players remain in the competition, the Anfield club are one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
There remains a long way to go this season, but the victory at Wembley and the confidence it delivers could be a real factor in the defining of Liverpool’s season. It wont be easy, but the prospect of Champions League football is at least achievable for King Kenny and his men.
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