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5 key battles that could decide Chelsea vs Liverpool in Carabao Cup final

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Chelsea and Liverpool head to Wembley Stadium on Sunday for the Carabao Cup final, bidding to win the first silverware of the season.

The two sides met less than a month ago, with Liverpool romping to a 4-1 victory, but a lot has changed since then. Jurgen Klopp believes the Reds aren’t favourites for this one, and whether that’s actually the case or not, it speaks volumes in the change in both sides’ fortunes in the past few weeks.

Injuries have ravaged Liverpool’s squad, whereas Chelsea are unbeaten in three games and just put in arguably their best performance of the season as they held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium.

All the signs suggest we’re in for a belter of a game, but the Carabao Cup is likely to be determined by who comes out on top in five key battles.

Malo Gusto vs Luis Diaz

Malo Gusto vs Luis Diaz

Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez are both major injury doubts for Liverpool, while Diogo Jota is definitely out after picking up a nasty-looking injury against Brentford. So there’s a strong chance that Colombian winger Luis Diaz becomes the focal point of Liverpool’s attack at Wembley.

 

Diaz should line up on his favoured left side, where he’ll find the in-form Malo Gusto. The Frenchman made light work of Manchester City’s Jeremy Doku recently and will have to give the Liverpool man the same treatment if Chelsea are to get something out of this one.

Gusto’s attacking instincts will also need to be tracked by Diaz, who can’t afford to forget his defensive duties either.

Enzo Fernandez vs Alexis Mac Allister.

Enzo Fernandez vs Alexis Mac Allister

Chelsea were comfortably second-best all over the pitch in last month’s defeat to Liverpool, but their midfield humbling was perhaps the sharpest nail hammered in the coffin. Moises Caicedo bore the brunt of severe criticism but it was Enzo Fernandez’s non-existent performance which was arguably of bigger concern.

Since then, Fernandez has erupted. Whether it was a tactical tweak or, as Mauricio Pochettino suggests, a physical change, the 23-year-old is feeling himself and now has the chance to flip the narrative against international teammate Alexis Mac Allister.

Mac Allister has been a sensational buy for Liverpool but will have a lot of work to do in this one, with Curtis Jones definitely out and Dominik Szoboszlai needing a late fitness test to even earn a spot on the bench.

Nicolas Jackson vs Virgil van Dijk

Nicolas Jackson vs Virgil van Dijk

Nunez may not be fit but the game will still include a bundle of chaos in the form of Nicolas Jackson, whose blend of unpredictability and inconsistency brings back memories of the Uruguayan from last season.

In Virgil van Dijk, Jackson will be up against one of the sport’s premier defenders. The Liverpool man will expect to come out on top and will have watched the problems Jackson caused Manchester City last week to ensure he doesn’t fall to the same fate.

Should Van Dijk keep Jackson quiet, Chelsea’s attack may struggle to get going.

Moises Caicedo vs Wataru Endo

Moises Caicedo vs Wataru Endo

What a difference six months can make. Chelsea famously beat Liverpool to the £115m signing of Moises Caicedo during the summer, after which the Reds spent £16m on Wataru Endo – an ageing midfielder who, with all due respect, most Premier League fans had never heard of. Liverpool’s so-called ‘panic buy’ quickly became a meme on social media.

And yet here we are, midway through the season, and the tables have turned. Endo has grown into an excellent defensive midfielder and provided the kind of impact expected from Caicedo for £100m cheaper.

Endo will seek to keep things simple, recover possession and hand it off to his creative teammates. Caicedo has more box-to-box responsibilities. Whoever comes out on top in their respective jobs will likely end up lifting the trophy.

Cole Palmer vs Andy Robertson.

Cole Palmer vs Andy Robertson.

If Chelsea are to win this, they’ll need a big performance from their star of the season, Cole Palmer.

Palmer has been lining up on the right in recent weeks and will therefore be assigned to Andy Robertson, who cannot afford to let the Englishman find his groove. Chelsea can be reliant on Palmer at times, so if Robertson shuts that channel, it’ll likely decide the game.

At the opposite end of the pitch, Palmer isn’t known for his love of tracking back, so Robertson may see some space to attack and whip in a devilish cross or two.

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