Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be bidding to secure his first trophy for the club and Manchester City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini potentially his last in Sunday’s League Cup final.
Klopp, 48, is less than five months into his mission to restore Liverpool to former glories, whereas Pellegrini, 62, has only three months left in the City saddle before handing the reins to Pep Guardiola.
City are the favourites, but former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has claimed that the nous Klopp demonstrated by leading Borussia Dortmund to five trophies will give the underdogs the edge at Wembley.
Responding to Gerrard’s prediction, made in the Daily Telegraph, Klopp said: “I am not sure I am the difference, but I know the way. There is absolutely no reason at this moment to have a doubt.
“I have to show it as clear as possible so there is no misunderstanding between my mouth and the ears of the players.
“We do this job in professional football. We only want to win things: titles, cups, whatever.
“A lot of managers work their whole lives and can be really successful, but have never the chance to win something. Now, everything is possible.”
Having fallen nine points below fourth-place City in the Premier League, Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification are fading and they were recently eliminated from the FA Cup by West Ham United.
They will face Manchester United in a tantalising last-16 Europa League tie, but it is Sunday’s game that offers Klopp the best chance to make a mark in his maiden campaign.
With eight trophies, Liverpool are the League Cup’s most successful club, but they have not procured any silverware since they last won the tournament in 2012.
Klopp’s tenure to date has been a tale of feast and famine, with dreary displays interspersed by stunning results such as slick away wins at City and Chelsea, a breathless 5-4 victory at Norwich City and six-goal thrashings of both Southampton and Aston Villa.
BIG GUNS RETURN
Liverpool won 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium in November when they last faced City, but Klopp and Pellegrini have attempted to play down the significance of that result.
Perhaps significantly, both teams have since recovered key personnel — notably captain Vincent Kompany and playmaker David Silva for City and skipper Jordan Henderson and striker Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool.
Liverpool’s starting XI has been largely unchanged since the 6-0 Valentine’s Day demolition of Villa, with Klopp making just one change across that game and the two-legged Europa League win over German side Augsburg.
His key decision regards his centre-back pairing, with fit-again duo Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren back in contention along with Mamadou Sakho, Kolo Toure and converted midfielder Lucas Leiva.
Pellegrini is hopeful that Kompany, Liverpool old boy Raheem Sterling and right-back Bacary Sagna will be fit despite training away from the main group on Friday.
Eliaquim Mangala, Jesus Navas and Wilfried Bony are all available for selection again, while cup goalkeeper Willy Caballero is expected to take over from Joe Hart.
City’s fans have experienced a week of extremes, having seen a second-string team trounced 5-1 by Chelsea in the FA Cup last weekend before the big guns, including Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure, returned in an impressive 3-1 win at Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League last 16.
With City nine points below league leaders Leicester City, albeit with a game in hand, French left-back Gael Clichy knows that Sunday’s game represents a golden opportunity to give Pellegrini a fitting send-off.
“We have been together for three years now and we have to live in the present — and the present is with Manuel Pellegrini,” Clichy said.
“I think for this game he will be exactly the same. He will want us to play the way we want to play. With the quality we have, if we start the game well, there is no reason why we should not have a great game.”