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Carabao Cup Final 2021/22: Old friends with plenty in common turn foes at Wembley

Chelsea-Thomas-Tuchel-vs-Liverpool-Jurgen-Klopp-Carabao-Cup-Final-2021-22

Chelsea and Liverpool will square off against each other in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, with the first domestic silverware of the season on the line. Wembley Stadium will host two of the best teams in the land locking horns with each other in a contest full of sub-plots, but the most striking narrative of the Cup final is none other than the two German head coaches looking over from their respective dug-outs. Two old friends in Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel who have a lot of things in common will fight it out in what promises to be a mouth-watering tactical battle.

The list of similarities between the two coaches who will share the touchline under the Wembley arch does not just stop at their nationalities. Klopp and Tuchel have taken very similar paths in their coaching careers, both starting their managerial journeys at Mainz in Germany – followed by a successful spell in Borussia Dortmund – which in turn, was followed by a spell in England. Although Tuchel did have an extra couple of years in France sandwiched between his spells in Germany and England, both coaches have taken similar routes to the top of the coaching game.

THE SIMILARITIES

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While Jurgen Klopp got Mainz promoted to the Bundesliga three years after he retired from the club as a player, Tuchel’s first gig in the German top flight was also at Mainz where he helped the club survive relegation – followed by a fifth-place finish. Their success made bigger fishes in the country take notice, and Borussia Dortmund came in to seal their signatures. Klopp won two Bundesliga titles and took Die Borussen to a Champions League final before Tuchel succeeded him and led Dortmund to the DFB Pokal – also winning more points per game than any Dortmund manager in history.

Jurgen Klopp followed his Dortmund spell with his arrival at England in 2015, where he took charge of Liverpool – and guided them to two finals in his very first season, albeit finishing on the losing side on both occasions. Defeats in the League Cup final and the Europa League final in 2016 were followed by a loss in the 2018 Champions League final, but Klopp did win the coveted trophy on his third attempt in 2019 – and followed it up with a first Premier League success for the club in the following year, and cemented his name in the Merseyside club’s folklore.

On the other hand, Tuchel joined Paris Saint-Germain off the back of his spell at Dortmund that came to an unceremonious end. Tuchel helped the Parisian club to back-to-back Ligue 1 titles as well as a Champions League final – but another fall-out with the hierarchy meant that he was relieved of his duties in PSG only a month before Chelsea snapped him up. Tuchel turned the club’s fortunes around in no time to help the Blues to two finals – while the FA Cup final ended in heartbreak, Chelsea ended up winning the Champions League final for only the second time in their history.

Both Klopp and Tuchel have encountered failure at the biggest stage of club football before overcoming it in the very following year, and are good friends off the pitch. There is a lot of mutual respect between the pair as well – while Klopp described him as an “outstanding” coach on his arrival to the Premier League, Tuchel said that it was “a compliment to be compared to Jürgen Klopp” upon his unveiling as the Dortmund head coach years ago. However, in spite of all of their similarities, there are certain differences between the pair – both on and off the pitch.

THE DIFFERENCES

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Although both managers have followed similar paths to the top and are both heavily influenced by similar coaching philosophies, there are certain underlying differences between the two Germans. Like many German coaches of their generation, they are both influenced by the gegenpressing philosophy first put forward by Ralf Rangnick – however, both coaches have intrinsic differences in their style of football. While Klopp is a vocal advocate of his famous ‘heavy metal football’, Tuchel mixes his gegenpressing philosophy with a pinch of pragmatism.

Their differences also extend to their characters off the pitch, as while Klopp has been reputed to be a charismatic personality who is a favourite of both his employers as well as the supporters – Tuchel’s reputation (before his arrival at Chelsea) spoke of a person who does not quite fit in when things are not working out for him. While both managers wear their hearts on their sleeves in the dugout, Klopp has been renowned to unite a dressing room while Tuchel has been known to consider his players as the means to get to an end – from his spells at Dortmund and PSG.

The two men have met on a number of occasions, and Klopp has got the better of his counterpart more than any other manager ever (8 times). The contrasts between the managers was best seen in the Europa League quarter-final tie in 2016 when Klopp’s Liverpool faced Tuchel’s Dortmund – as the former orchestrated the Anfield support and turned around a deficit to qualify to the semi-finals. Tuchel was left bewildered at the less-favoured Liverpool players channelling their best form, as Klopp taught him a lesson in motivation and to get his players ready from a mental perspective.

Although Tuchel has often been described as a “difficult man to work with”, it does seem like he has learnt his lessons from the unceremonious endings to both his last two managerial spells. His troubles with Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and PSG sporting director Leonardo meant that a reputation of a combustible genius preceded him at his arrival in West London, but so far, Tuchel has done a great job in fitting in with arguably the most ruthless club hierarchy in European football – the three major trophies since his arrival has definitely helped his case.

THE STAKES

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Amidst all of the sub-plots, the trophy on the line remains the important narrative about Sunday. Klopp and Tuchel will lead their respective sides out from the Wembley tunnel onto the pitch, bringing a climax to both sides’ journeys in this competition. While Liverpool got past Norwich City, Preston North End and Leicester City before getting past Arsenal in the semi-final, Chelsea got past Aston Villa, Southampton and Brentford before they got past Tottenham Hotspur in the last four – setting up the all-important clash at Wembley Stadium with the Carabao Cup at stake.

As for the team news, Mateo Kovacic and Hakim Ziyech both suffered impact injuries during the Blues’ Champions League game against Lille and will be available for selection on the night. Mason Mount, as well as Reece James who has been out through injury since January is also back in training, meaning that Ben Chilwell is the only guaranteed absentee for Chelsea in the final. While a well-rested Jorginho is set to replace either Kovacic or N’Golo Kanté, Kai Havertz is likely to start replacing Romelu Lukaku up front, while Tuchel has not confirmed whether Édouard Mendy or the ever-present Cup goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga start in goal.

Liverpool, on the other hand, have already confirmed their starter in goal – Caoimhin Kelleher will take his position between the posts replacing Alisson Becker as he has done throughout the competition – while the rear guard are set to retain their places in the starting eleven. Jordan Henderson is likely to come into midfield replacing Curtis Jones for the Reds, but Diogo Jota – the Reds’ difference-maker in the semi-finals – is likely to find a spot on the bench on Sunday. It is still too early for Roberto Firmino to feature again, and the trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané or the fresh arrival in the winter in Luis Diaz all seem irreplaceable upfront at the moment.

While the Merseyside outfit will be fresh off a comprehensive 6-0 win over Leeds United in their last league game, the London outfit will go into the game off the back of a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in their previous league outing. Liverpool have been in great form going into the final, having won their last nine games in all competitions, and though the entirety of their regular starting line-up have been in admirable touch in recent weeks – their Brazilian midfielder Fabinho will be key in particular as he has been in imperious form throughout the past month.

As for the Blues, Kai Havertz will be integral as he has found form in recent weeks, alongside Christian Pulisic who has been revitalized on the left flank. While the former has two goals in his last two games, the latter has a good scoring record against Liverpool – and both players are likely to get the nod to start alongside Hakim Ziyech upfront. Chelsea’s Man of the Match in their mid-week Champions League outing is their key on Sunday – N’Golo Kanté will hope to be at his best in yet another Cup final as Chelsea aim to win their third trophy of the season so far.

Though it has been a positive month for the Blues who have won each of their last six games in all competitions, having lifted the Club World Cup trophy before taking a huge step towards qualification to the Champions League play-offs – the Reds will also be back their chances to win their fifth trophy under Jürgen Klopp. Klopp expressed the wish to make more of their purple patch to win more silverware, as the German commented: “We all know that in the moment the people are really happy, but in 20 years if you were to talk about this team – I would not be surprised if people would then say: ‘Yeah, they were good, but they should have won more.”

“That’s why we should try now to win a few things. And the next chance, the best chance we have this weekend, is against Chelsea when it’s really tricky.” While Klopp urged his men to help the club win their first League Cup since 2012, Tuchel addressed the “uncertainty” over the Roman Abramovich situation in recent light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – but also heaped praise on N’Golo Kanté, who the German addressed as a “special player” ahead of the game.

History in this fixture favours the Blues, as the last time Chelsea met Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, a brilliant Eden Hazard strike proved to be the difference in a 2-1 win in a third-round tie at Anfield – while the last domestic final contested between the two also ended in a 2-1 win for Chelsea in the 2012 FA Cup final. However, both teams have lost their most recent domestic final that they have contested at Wembley Stadium – while Liverpool lost on penalties to Manchester City in the 2016 League Cup final, Chelsea lost to Leicester City in last year’s FA Cup final.

So in order to banish their past demons at Wembley, both Klopp and Tuchel will hope to get one over the other in what shapes up as a climactic outcome for two managers so eerily intertwined. Their similar styles of football, a similar understanding of the game, similar journeys in their careers as well as their differences have led both coaches to the pinnacle of the sport – but on Sunday, only one coach will break his domestic trophy duck in England and lift the Carabao Cup.

Two of the best managers in the world managing two of the best teams in the world will fight it out, but not only that – the match will also feature two old friends going head-to-head against each other, as only one will be awarded the first domestic silverware of the season.

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