With Manchester City and Aston Villa facing off in the League Cup final, some neutral fans might be finding it tough to Carabao-t the match (look, we tried 20 versions of that pun and this was the best we could do).
City’s 6-1 win at Villa in the league suggests it might not be the closest of contests, but this competition has ways of surprising you. And even when there’s no surprise in the scoreline, the fixture can have ways of leaving an imprint in other ways.
We’ve taken a look at some of the most notable moments in League Cup finals this century to show why it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of the League Cup.
‘Player Power’ has been a big thing at Chelsea for a while now, but never has it been more direct than in the 2019 final.
For those who need reminding – and, fair enough, the last 12 months have lasted about a decade – the Blues’ goalkeeper responded to Maurizio Sarri’s attempts to substitute him by closing his eyes, putting his fingers in his ears and screaming “nah nah nah I can’t hear you”. On reflection, this would have been an opportune moment for Manchester City players to begin shooting on sight.
Did it work? Well, it depends if we’re talking about the traditional sense (no – Chelsea lost on penalties), the meta sense (yes – Kepa outlasted Sarri at Stamford Bridge) or the extended meta sense (no again – Willy Caballero has since taken Kepa’s place).
Ultimately the real winners were us, the viewers who had already given up any hope of elite football but had a bonus bit of soap opera to fill our afternoons.
Abou Diaby taking the law into his own hands
There’s just something about Chelsea in finals. In Europe, we’ve had the penalty shoot-out drama of the Champions League in 2008 and 2012, while domestically, long before Kepa, there was the 2007 final.
Yes, Chelsea also played in the FA Cup final that year and treated us to one of the worst Wembley finals of all time, but let’s not dwell on that.
Against an Arsenal side so disrespectful of the competition that they started Jérémie Aliadière and Armand Traoré in a final – no, really – Chelsea fell behind to a Theo Walcott goal but went into the second half all-square.
A few minutes later, as John Terry stooped for a header in the Arsenal box, Abou Diaby kicked him square in the face. This wasn’t your classic low head, high boot situation – Diaby really went for it, following through like it was a field goal attempt and leaving Terry prone on the ground.
The Chelsea captain was okay afterwards, so we’re allowed to see the funny side. Weird that it wasn’t called as a foul, though, in retrospect.
Wojciech Szczęsny getting it wrong
The 2011 final was another on-paper mismatch: Arsenal were second in the league when they took on a Birmingham side looking nervously over their shoulders at the bottom three; both would drop down the table by the end of the season, with the Blues relegated on the final day.
That didn’t matter at Wembley, though. Arsenal were supposed to be comfortable, having conceded just twice all competition, the same number Alex McLeish’s side had let in at home to Rochdale in the second round, before the Gunners even entered the competition.
However, the London club were surprised by McLeish’s 4-3-Tree set-up (yes, that’s a Nikola Žigić joke, shut up) and the game was level going into the final few minutes.
With barely 60 seconds left on the clock, Wojciech Szczęsny and Laurent Koscielny had the kind of mix-up that’s hilarious for everyone except Wojciech Szczęsny and Laurent Koscielny, allowing Obafemi Martins to sneak a winner. The Nigerian, signed on loan in the winter transfer window, played just seven minutes in the entire competition and ended up scoring the decisive goal.
As an aside, Martins is currently unattached. Would it be too much to ask for another second city club to snap him up in time for the final?
Nathan Dyer close to tears
Speaking of mismatches, when Swansea made their first ever League Cup final in 2013, they couldn’t have asked for a more favourable opponent than League Two side Bradford City.
The lower-league outfit had stunned three Premier League sides – Wigan, Arsenal, and Aston Villa over two legs in the semis – but were no match for Michael Laudrup’s Swans.
We didn’t get the shenanigans of the semi-final, when the Welsh club brought a ball-boy out of retirement to wind up Eden Hazard and trap the Belgian into an early bath, but Nathan Dyer’s contribution wasn’t a terrible consolation prize.
With just under an hour on the clock, Swansea were 3-0 up thanks to one goal from Michu and two from Dyer. They had a chance to make it four when Bantams keeper Matt Duke felled Jonathan de Guzmán in the area and the midfielder stepped up to take the penalty… only to be met with resistance.
Dyer was on a hat-trick, you see, and it didn’t matter that De Guzmán was the regular penalty taker. The winger approached his team-mate with the energy of a child who has been told he’s not allowed to blow out the candles on his birthday cake, pleading with every tool in his arsenal but to no avail.
We’d love to say this story had a happy ending for Dyer, and maybe it did in the form of his Premier League title in 2016 with Leicester, but before that moment he had three solid years quietly seething at his former team-mate. Still, it’s probably a good job De Guzmán at least scored.