The best League Cup Finals of the 21st Century

With Newcastle and Man United set to face off against each other in the Carabao Cup Final later this month, we look back on some of the most entertaining League Cup Finals of this century.

The Red Devils head to Wembley looking to win their first trophy under Erik ten Hag. If successful, United will bring a six-year silverware drought to an end.

In contrast, Newcastle are pursuing their first major title in over half a century. Success in the Carabao Cup Final on 26 February would also bring the first silverware under the Saudi PIF ownership.

As neutrals, we just want to see an entertaining spectacle. Hopefully, fans will be treated to a classic League Cup showpiece, just like these past finals.

2005: Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (AET)

The League Cup may have been temporarily away from Wembley, but Liverpool and Chelsea played out one of the competition’s all-time finals under the roof of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

It did not take long for the action to begin during the 2005 showpiece. Just one minute into the game, John Arne Riise fired Liverpool in front via a fabulous volley. This kind of set the tone for the whole game.

Despite numerous chances for both sides, it took until 80 minutes to see another goal. Chelsea managed to find a late equaliser when Steven Gerrard, unfortunately, headed the ball into his own net.

Incredibly, Jose Mourinho’s celebrations of the goal – where he shushed Liverpool fans – saw “the Special One” sent to the stands. Extra time now loomed.

Chelsea finally put themselves ahead in the second half of extra-time. Glen Johnson’s long throw caused chaos in the Liverpool area, and Didier Drogba then bundled the ball home.

Just five minutes later, the Blues seemingly wrapped up the League Cup when Mateja Kezman scored their third goal. Liverpool weren’t ready to give up without fighting, though.

There was still some time left for drama as Antonio Nunez nodded in to make the game 3-2. But, sadly, we missed out on penalties as Jose Mourinho’s side held on to claim his first trophy in English football.

Rafa Benitez’s side would get their revenge on Chelsea a few months after the League Cup Final. In the Champions League semis, Liverpool eliminated the London club on their way to winning the UCL.

(If you want to watch the final yourself, EFL uploaded a full re-run on YouTube here.)

2011: Birmingham City 2-1 Arsenal

2011’s League Cup Final produced one of the most surprising upsets in recent memory. Birmingham City were heavy underdogs against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, yet still managed to take home the trophy.

Heading into the match, Birmingham were fighting for their Premier League survival, sitting just above the relegation zone. In contrast, the Gunners were challenging Man United in a fascinating title race.

That is why so many viewers were shocked to see the Blues take the lead before the half-hour mark. From a corner, Birmingham’s towering striker, Nikola Zigic, nodded home a header to give the unfancied Midlands side an unlikely lead.

It took Arsenal less than ten minutes to get level. Andriy Arshavin’s cut-back found Robin van Persie, who flashed home a low volley into the bottom corner.

Both teams pressed on in search of a winner following the break. Birmingham’s Keith Fahey struck the post, meanwhile, Ben Foster pulled out some big saves to deny Arsenal.

Then, just before full-time, the Gunners had a defensive disaster.

Zigic harmlessly flicked on Foster’s long free kick, which Wojciech Szczesny in Arsenal’s goal came to collect. However, Laurent Koscielny did not hear his call. The pair collided, leaving the ball to roll to City striker, Obafemi Martins.

Martins took full advantage of their mishap, passing the ball into an empty net to send the Bluenoses into dreamland.

This proved a stunning high point in a disappointing 2010/11 campaign. The Blues were relegated to the Championship the very same season as their Cup triumph.

(Again, a full match re-run is available here.)

2017: Man United 3-2 Southampton

Man United and Southampton put on one of the best League Cup Finals in recent years with a thriller in 2017.

After the Saints had an early strike ruled out for offside, United took the lead through Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede hit a fabulous free kick out of the reach of Fraser Forster to get the first goal of the game.

This was not Ibrahimovic’s only crucial intervention during this match.

Southampton kept pressing United, however, Jesse Lingard managed to double the Red Devils’ advantage against the run of play. The Saints now faced an uphill battle to get back into the match.

Thankfully, the South-coast side got exactly what they needed just before half-time – a goal. Italian forward Manolo Gabbiadini turned in a low cross to set up a thrilling second half.

Just three minutes past the break, Southampton were level. Gabbiadini grabbed his second of the game thanks to a snappy finish on the turn. Jose Mourinho’s side had blown a 2-0 lead in just a handful of time.

But they still had one of this generation’s best forwards on their side. As extra time loomed, Ander Herrera crossed into an unmarked Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big forward powered a header into the net to seal United’s first silverware under Mourinho.

A few months later, United picked up another trophy on the season with a Europa League final victory. Although they haven’t won any silverware since, they have the chance to break their drought in this year’s Carabao Cup Final.

2012: Liverpool 2-2 Cardiff City (Liverpool win on penalties)  

Finally, Championship side Cardiff City pushed Liverpool to a penalty shootout in one of the most pulsating League Cup finals ever.

Amazingly, the team from the Welsh capital took the lead within 20 minutes at Wembley. Midfielder Joe Mason slotted the ball between Pepe Reina’s legs to hand the underdogs an unlikely advantage.

Liverpool then spent most of the first half camped in Cardiff’s half. Despite this, the Premier League side could not get past a resolute Bluebirds defence.

The second half began in much the same manner, with it ultimately taking an hour before Liverpool finally put the ball in the net. Defender Martin Skrtel got the goal, slamming home a loose ball following a corner.

Even though they were now level, the Reds continued to test Tom Heaton in the Cardiff goal. But the Championship team stood firm – forcing extra time.

After 108 minutes of football, Dirk Kuyt thought he had won Liverpool the trophy thanks to his goal. Yet there was still one more twist in this fascinating tale.

Another set piece provoked a goalmouth scramble, which eventually saw defender Ben Turner poke the ball home. Incredibly, Cardiff City had taken Liverpool to penalties.

It looked written in the stars for the Welsh side when Steven Gerrard missed the first pen. Unfortunately, Cardiff also missed before Charlie Adam blazed over for the Reds.

Don Cowie gave Cardiff a small advantage, but three consecutive scores from the Merseyside club sealed victory. Steven Gerrard’s cousin, Anthony, missed the decisive spot-kick for Cardiff.

Although a disappointing outcome, Cardiff left Wembley with their heads held high. After all, they had gone toe-to-toe with one of the biggest clubs about in an absolutely brilliant Final.

(Full match available here.)

Featured image credit: Getty