Willy Caballero proved an unlikely hero with three penalty saves as Manchester City beat Liverpool 3-1 in a Wembley Stadium shootout on Sunday to win the English League Cup.
In the other marquee match of the day, Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-2 at Old Trafford to dent Arsene Wenger’s title hopes — as 18-year-old Marcus Rashford struck a brace in front of his supporters in an entertaining duel.
City vs Liverpool finished 1-1 following extra time, Philippe Coutinho equalising for Liverpool in the 83rd minute after Fernandinho had put City ahead early in the second half, and Caballero took centre-stage in the shootout.
The 34-year-old Argentine, who deputises for Joe Hart in cup competitions, saved penalties from Lucas Leiva, Coutinho and substitute Adam Lallana and although Fernandinho hit the post with his spot-kick, Yaya Toure stroked home the decisive penalty to give City victory.
On his decision to keep faith with Caballero, City manager Manuel Pellegrini said: “I’d rather lose the title than lose my word.
“A lot of media were waiting to criticise me if Willy Caballero makes a mistake. I had a lot of trust in Caballero. I am very pleased for all the players and staff, but more for him because he deserved it.”
A tearful Caballero said: “It’s amazing to win this cup. It is fantastic for the blue (City) people.
“It’s important, emotional for me, my family, to be in this great team.”
It was City’s second League Cup triumph in three seasons, and fourth in total, and ensures that Pellegrini will sign off with at least one trophy before handing over the reins to Pep Guardiola.
His Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, met with disappointment in his first attempt to win a trophy following his appointment as the successor to Brendan Rodgers in October.
In Manchester, teenage forward Rashford’s dream start to life at United continued.
The win represented Louis van Gaal’s third victory, in three competitions, over the past six days, but more significantly, damaged Arsene Wenger’s hopes of winning Arsenal’s first league title in 12 years.
The 18-year-old forward, who scored twice in the mid-week Europa League victory over FC Midtjylland, was on the mark again in an astonishing first half in which he beat Petr Cech on two occasions.
To make his impact all the more stunning, the goals came within three minutes of each other as United delivered a serious blow to Wenger’s aim of narrowing the five-point advantage that leaders Leicester City held before kick-off.
After 29 minutes, Ander Herrera started a move with a telling tackle on Theo Walcott, sparking a counter-attack that ended with Guillermo Varela crossing from the right and Gabriel hacking a poor clearance directly to Rashford.
The teenager did the rest with a composed finish from a dozen yards, the first shot of his Premier League career resulting in his first goal.
Arsenal’s poor defending was badly exposed in that attack and worse was to follow from the next serious foray into their territory with Varela again influential, making an important header that kept the ball in play.
Jesse Lingard received the ball and picked out Rashford, who had again slipped his marker Gabriel, and the youngster planted a perfect header past the diving Cech.
Wenger looked stunned on the Arsenal bench, a mood reflected by his players, although his side were able to pull an important goal back before the interval, predictably through the former United striker Danny Welbeck.
Mesut Ozil was the architect with an inch-perfect free-kick from midway inside the United half and Welbeck, who eluded his marker Marcos Rojo too easily, guided a header past David de Gea from 10 yards.
The entertainment continued after the restart as United sought to continue a remarkable run of close to 250 Premier League home games in which they have led at half-time and not lost.
In the 65th minute, with Rashford again involved as he held up Juan Mata’s through ball before laying it back to Herrera just outside the area allowed the Spanish midfielder to take a crisp shot which went in off a Laurent Koscielny defelection.
Again, Arsenal responded, from Sanchez’s right-wing cross on 69 minutes, which found Welbeck on the six-yard line for a shot that was blocked by De Gea.
The rebound fell kindly for Ozil, who showed predictably superb technique in keeping a bouncing ball down and driving it past the diving De Gea from 15 yards.
But apart from half-chances for Giroud and Kolscielny, both of whom missed with headers, there was little further goalmouth action.
Feature image source: Reuters