Final games are always weird. There’s tension in the air, a full-capacity stadium and players, looking like gladiators, waiting to get on the pitch and start bumping into each other – or dribbling past each other as the situation may require. This final was no different. Klopp, Liverpool’s coach, before the game kicked off, looked like a geek waiting for his pet project to blow the Science Fair away as he stood in front of his men, waiting to lead them onto the pitch. Pellegrini looked… old. And worn too. It’s been a “very long” season and another trophy would do more than a Thank You note at the end of the season would. But with the old ones you never know right?
The game started with Liverpool being the better team. There was Firmino getting the better of Otamendi and the Liverpool calvary charging at Man. City’s defense in the first few minutes of the game. And then there was the lovely, Ronaldinho-like pass from Coutinho. Pellegrini played his usual 4-2-3-1 formation (still waiting for Pep to come around and try something crazy) with Fernandinho played at the right of the 3-man midfield placed behind Agüero. Yaya Toure and Fernando were the two holding midfielders, with the former still lacking accuracy in his passing skills but showing a few signs of revival from the dead whilr the latter’s ebulience is still of legend.
After ten minutes, there were already power contests, speed contests, strikers vs defenders contests (Sterling vs Clyne) and the game was already evened up with both teams getting their fare share of the ball possession. It was quiet until the 22nd minute. Liverpool’s defense gifted Agüero a goal-scoring opportunity. Sahko most-notably slipped and gave the Argentine the chance to go one-on-one against the Liverpool keeper.
Well, Kun did not convert that chance.
The shot he tried to curl past the goalie was parried by Mignolet onto the base of the goalpost. Sahko was found guilty of still suffering from the aftermath of his head-collision with Emre Can and was subbed off, against his will. Jurgen was taking no chances in this final. This was in the 24th minute. And so the not-so-interesting, not-so-boring first half ended.
The second half started with Man. City getting the first goal of the game, in the 49th minute. Agüero got a lovely pass from Silva, ran towards the Liverpool goal and was confronted by two defenders. The usual Agüero would have tried to dribble his way into the box.
But this was an unusual Agüero.
He kept these two defenders engaged, kept them imagining what he would do, waited for Fernandinho to make his run, passed the ball to the Brazilian who converted the opportunity. Manchester City one goal up! Now Liverpool was chasing the game hard and Man. City was now on the backfoot – a usual these days when Man. City takes the lead – but taking advantage of Liverpool on the counter, especially utilizing the sudden ‘free zone’ around Liverpool’s Left Back area.
Oh I almost forgot!
During this Man. City-dominated period, Sterling had a golden chance to silence all the Liverpool fans that had been booing his every play since the start of the match but failed to put the ball past Liverpool goalie. Nothing exceptional happened again until the 83rd minute.
Liverpool had made two substitutions. Defenders were subbed off for attacking players. Klopp was looking for a goal. More like desperate for the equalizing goal. Liverpool was getting more into the game. And they got their goal. First there was a goal-mouth scramble, with the ball flying back and forth across the Man. City goalpost. Then a shot that hit the post. The ball rebounded off into the path of Coutinho who had been quiet for too long.
But this was time to scream.
He slotted home like it was a penalty kick. The game was now level. Game on!
In between the first goal of the game and the other goal of regular time, there were players who played exceptionally. They bossed their own patch of the pitch and put on a display. First up, * drum roll* step up Simon Mignolet. This was, by miles, the Man of the Match. He made no less than two saves just inches away from his goal line. Though he was at fault for letting Fernandinho’s shot slip past him, he made up for his early error by keeping everything else Man. City threw at him at bay. He made point-blank saves. He made reflex saves. He was on top of his game. Then there was Sterling. He was way ahead of the other contestants (Henderson and co.) competing for the game’s Flop of the Match. He seemed to make sure that he lost every opportunity as quickly as they came. He failed to convert the flood of opportunities that came his way, especially the player-against-keeper chance he had.
And so the game dragged into extra time.
The 1st half of Extra Time went by fast with both teams playing with tired legs. It wasn’t exactly eventful and this was made even more obvious by the fact that Pellegrini’s substitutions (Zabaleta and Navas for Fernando and Sagna) and another save by Mignolet were the only highlights of the 1st half. The 2nd half was a total contrast. The chances were coming around more now and they all seemed to be going Liverpool’s way. But somehow, the scoreline stayed the same: 1 – 1.
Then some of the players got tired of playing football – can’t blame them, 120 minutes is a long time right? – and decided to get involved in a wrestling contest. Plane take off from Wembley. Touchdown at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Yaya Toure and Lallana were the fighters. The African shoved the European off like he was nothing. Then lifted him off the ground like the Englishman was the thing before nothing. Yellow cards each for the drama. Good referee
2nd half of Extra Time ends.
Emre Can took the first one and it was a paneka. Goal! First blood drawn! Then Fernandinho stepped up and kicked his against the post. Then came Lucas. His was stopped by Caballero. The Man. City bench was jubilant. Up next? Navas. He converted. 1 – 1. All the while, Klopp kept his cool. How weird. Along came Coutinho who lost his while Agüero converted his.
The tables were turned. 1 – 2 Man. City.
Caballero, meanwhile, was the man of the moment. He was enjoying himself. He had just denied Lallana’s penalty from going in. That was his 3rd stop of the four spot kicks taken by the Reds. Step aside Mignolet! A new sheriff just strolled into town! Yaya, by the way, converted his penalty, and won the game for the Citizens.
Another trophy for Pellegrini. Sad to see Klopp finish trophyless. He was the most interesting figure on the sidelines. But, as usual, football is already naughty, without penalties. Add penalties to the equation and what do you get?
You guessed right!
Rotimi Daramola is a full time footballing polygamist that loves watching football and is in love with writing about the beautiful game. You can engage him on twitter @rotdav and catch up on his other article