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Carabao Cup final talking points as injury-hit Liverpool face rebuilding Chelsea

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 21 Feb 2024

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There will be no shortage of sub-plots when Chelsea take on Liverpool for the first silverware of the season in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.

Each coming off tumultuous campaigns last season, fortunes this season have diverged with one challenging on all fronts whilst the other labours to rediscover former glories.

The PA news agency looks at the talking points.

Liverpool’s injury list

It was confirmed on Tuesday that Diogo Jota and Alisson would be out for significant periods while Curtis Jones also joins Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Joel Matip on the absent list for Sunday.

There is no guarantee that Darwin Nunez, who like Jones and Jota was withdrawn in Saturday’s win over Brentford, or Dominik Szoboszlai will be fit as Jurgen Klopp’s squad risks being stretched thin on the run-in, beginning with Sunday’s final.

Chelsea’s young team coming of age

Mauricio Pochettino has talked about the importance of success in the Carabao Cup for the development of his players, who with an average age of just over 23 comprise the youngest squad in the Premier League.

After the semi-final win over Middlesbrough he stated Sunday’s final means more to Chelsea’s current crop than the club’s trophy-laden history would suggest, and that victory at Wembley could accelerate their development. Fresh from an encouraging performance in drawing with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, lifting the cup on Sunday could be a watershed moment.

Salah back and in form

Klopp was without Mohamed Salah for almost seven weeks prior to his return to the team as a first-half substitute against Brentford, but his performance at the Gtech Stadium saw him hit the ground running.

An excellent assist for Alexis Mac Allister’s goal that made it 2-0 was followed minutes later by a fine finish of his own to show his manager it is not all bad news on the selection front. It will be a tonic to Klopp’s injury concerns if the Egyptian can help his team and himself to an eighth trophy of his Liverpool career on Sunday.

Chelsea’s best hope of Europe

With a top-six league finish looking out of reach it seems increasingly likely that cup success is Pochettino’s best hope of marking his first season by leading the club back into Europe after a year away.

They still have the FA Cup to play for, with a fifth-round meeting at home to Championship high-fliers Leeds next week, but a win at Wembley on Sunday will ensure at least a place in the Europa Conference League. It may not be a return to the Champions League, a competition the team won was recently as 2021, but it would be progress after a turbulent 18 months on and off the pitch.

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