Cup competitions always pose a huge question mark, but following the surprising results at the weekend, the second leg of tomorrow’s League Cup semi-final has become even more unpredictable.
After dominating Chelsea in the first leg, Liverpool followed up that performance with a scoreless draw against Championship side Bolton Wanderers at Anfield, allowing the Trotters to secure themselves a lucrative replay. While the added strain of an additional fixture crammed into an already bursting schedule is a conversation better suited for another day, it’s a talk that the Blues wouldn’t mind having after they were dumped out of the competition by League One side Bradford City in front of their own fans.
I remember a time when trips to the Reebok Stadium were met with groans; Bolton Wanderers, for a brief period there, always seemed to have our number.
Call it a “bogey team”, call it what you will, but the Trotters seemed extra keen to cause us problems in one way or another. They may be playing their trade in the Championship at present, but I don’t think much will have changed. It’s the magic of the Cup that pundits and punters are always banging on about that gives this meeting an extra bit of edge. Liverpool, riding an unbeaten streak that stretches back to the tail-end of December, go into the FA Cup fourth round tie the obvious favourites, but that only raises the stakes for the Premier League side; no matter what Reds boss Brendan Rodgers does, it’ll be seen as a gamble and there’ll be some serious trouble should Bolton give us a black-eye.
It’s Liverpool and Chelsea in the semi-final of a cup competition — considering how many times this has happened, I don’t think I really need to say much more than that.
These two teams have met 36-times in the last decade and 16 of those have been in cup competitions with almost each of them turning out to be truly memorable occasions. The Champions League provided a platform for a number of high profile showdowns over the years, but the League Cup has been a storied competition for these two teams as well with the 2005 final, a narrow win by Chelsea to capture their first piece of silverware under Jose Mourinho, the choice cut for Blues fans everywhere. That, of course, isn’t a moment that too many Reds choose to dwell on — including yours truly.
Although Liverpool have found themselves in a good run of form as of late, it’s still a bit too early to get excited about their climb up the table. The Reds go into tomorrow’s meeting with Aston Villa only five points out of the Champions League places, but competition remains stiff for a spot in Europe’s premier club competition — so, nothing new there.
Outside of the top two spots, there’s a points pile-up with at least six clubs realistically in the battle for third and fourth place. The traditional gap between the top and the bottom has started to narrow over the last couple of seasons and that trend has continued in earnest this year with the likes of Southampton and West Ham United mixing it up in the upper echelons of the table. A slow start to the campaign saw Brendan Rodgers side all but ruled out of the race, but a steady string of results is putting them back in the picture, though they’ll have to right some early season wrongs if they’re going to keep up the charge.
After playing out a dreadfully boring scoreless draw only five weeks ago at Anfield, you’ll excuse me if I’m a bit apprehensive of our chances going into this weekend’s trip to the Stadium of Light.
After signs pointed to something resembling a resurgence for Liverpool a few weeks back, our forward momentum has slowed somewhat with a close fought draw with Leicester City and a narrow 2-1 victory over League Two side AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup making the seemingly inevitable sunrise of the Reds season look more like just another false dawn. While that might seem overly pessimistic, there is cause for hope coming firmly on the back of the fact that Sunderland hasn’t fared that much better recently — though that begs the question of whether this will give either side an opportunity to break of out their respective funks, or if it’ll just provide them with another chance to display their collective mediocrity.