Manchester City
Manchester City celebrates after beating Liverpool on penalties in the Capital One Cup final. Reuters

Willy Caballero became the unlikely hero with three penalty-shootout saves to give Manchester City its second League Cup title in three years after edging out Liverpool on penalties. After the sides were locked at 1-1 following 120 minutes at Wembley, Liverpool, which had leveled with a late goal in normal time, grabbed an early advantage in the shootout. But Caballero, continuing his role as Manchester City’s cup goalkeeper in place of regular number one Joe Hart, saved from Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho and then spectacularly Adam Lallana to leave Yaya Toure to step up and secure the Capital One Cup.

It was the League Cup that brought City manager Manuel Pellegrini his first trophy at the club in 2014. In his final season at the club, he will dearly hope that it is not now also his last. Still alive in the Premier League title race and in the Champions League, City will be seeking to make the first silverware of the English season merely a springboard to even greater success before Pep Guardiola takes the reins for next season.

Manchester City had gone 1-0 early in the second half through a Fernandinho effort that went right through the dive of Simon Mignolet. And they should have had the trophy sewn up. Instead two poor misses from former Liverpool starlet Raheem Sterling, along with a clear penalty failing to be awarded and some fine redemptive saves from Mignolet kept Jurgen Klopp’s side alive. And City was made to pay for their profligacy when Coutinho converted with Liverpool’s first shot on the target with seven minutes of normal time remaining after Lallana’s shot came back to him off a post.

But Liverpool, which twice went close through Diviock Origi in extra time, couldn’t avoid a penalty shootout that ultimately went City’s way. For Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, it is further heartbreak at Wembley, after his previous appearance at England’s national stadium ended with an extra time defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final when in charge of Borussia Dortmund.

In truth, though, he could have few complaints about the outcome. Liverpool had beaten Manchester City 4-1 at the Etihad in November with a stirring performance that it appeared would mark Klopp’s high-octane style from Dortmund being embraced at Anfield. But the evidence since has been that much transforming work remains to be done. And that was the case at Wembley on Sunday, too.

Liverpool applied some good early pressure, but City soon gained the ascendency and held it for the bulk of the encounter. Still, in what for the bulk of 90 minutes was a disappointing and scrappy final, Pellegrini’s side was not at its best, either. Going up against a Liverpool defense that was already featuring Lucas Leiva playing out of position and was weakened further by the early exit of Mamadou Sakho and arrival of former City man Kolo Toure, they arguably should have posed a more consistent threat.

Yet they still created the bulk of the chances. Before his blunder for the goal, Mignolet superbly tipped a Sergio Aguero shot onto the post in the first half. After City got in front, the team had plenty of opportunities to make the result safe. Raheem Sterling was set up for two glorious chances, one that appeared almost harder to miss, while City was mystified when Aguero went over Alberto Moreno’s clumsily dangled-out leg in the Liverpool area, but somehow referee Michael Oliver failed to award a penalty.

Even after Liverpool had leveled late on, Toure had a chance to win it only to be denied by a wonderfully brave save by Mignolet. At that stage Mignolet’s apparent transformation from villain to hero appeared likely to be the final’s dominant narrative. Instead it was his opposite number, Caballero, who proved decisive.