LONDON, Feb 28, (AFP): Willy Caballero proved an unlikely hero with three penalty saves as Manchester City beat Liverpool 3-1 in a Wembley Stadium shootout on Sunday to win the English League Cup.
The game finished 1-1 following extra time, Philippe Coutinho equalising for Liverpool in the 83rd minute after Fernandinho had put City ahead early in the second half, and Caballero took centre-stage in the shootout.
The 34-year-old Argentine, who deputises for Joe Hart in cup competitions, saved penalties from Lucas Leiva, Coutinho and substitute Adam Lallana and although Fernandinho hit the post with his spot-kick, Yaya Toure stroked home the decisive penalty to give City victory.
It was City’s second League Cup triumph in three seasons, and fourth in total, and ensures that manager Manuel Pellegrini will sign off with at least one trophy before handing over the reins to Pep Guardiola.
His Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, met with disappointment in his first attempt to win a trophy following his appointment as the successor to Brendan Rodgers in October.
Liverpool, who lost Mamadou Sakho to a first-half head injury, have gone four years without a trophy since winning the last of their eight League Cups in 2012, raising the stakes yet further ahead of their Europa League clash with arch rivals Manchester United.
Klopp’s chief selection dilemma was at centre-back and with Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren not yet fit after injury and illness respectively, he elected to keep faith with midfielder Lucas alongside Sakho.
But Sakho hurt himself in an early clash of heads with team-mate Emre Can and looked wobbly as Sergio Aguero slipped past him to curl in a shot that Simon Mignolet brilliantly touched onto the left-hand past.
The French international left the fray moments later, with Kolo Toure entering the fray, but had to be convinced of the need for his withdrawal by Klopp and flung a water bottle to the ground in disgust as he crossed the touchline before burying his head beneath his jacket on the bench.
Fernandinho was playing wide on the right for City, as he had in the mid-week Champions League win at Dynamo Kiev, and four minutes into the second half he provided the breakthrough.
Aguero waited for him to make an overlapping run and the Brazilian duly obliged before drilling in a shot that seemed to go straight through Mignolet.
It was the latest in a succession of blunders by the Belgium international and replays of the goal on the big screens drew groans from the Liverpool end.
Two City old boys almost combined to forge an equaliser, James Milner shooting wide from Daniel Sturridge’s through-ball, before Raheem Sterling — roundly booed by fans of his former club — squandered a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0 by shooting wide from David Silva’s pass.
He also miscued from an Aguero cut-back and they were to prove costly misses as, with seven minutes to go, Liverpool levelled.
Sturridge played a low cross into the box from the right and although Lallana contrived to hit the post from close range, Coutinho followed in to side-foot home. It was Liverpool’s first shot on target.
Mignolet partly redeemed himself by sharply saving from Fernando and with Yaya Toure twice thwarted at a late corner, the game went to extra time.
The Belgian also excelled himself in the extra period, jutting out his left hand to save from Aguero, before Caballero repelled a header from substitute Divock Origi at the other end.
It was the first save he had had to make, but there were three more to come.