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Chelsea v Liverpool: Key Battles in EFL Cup Final

Familiar foes Chelsea and Liverpool will renew their rivalry when they meet in the EFL Cup final at Wembley.

Sunday's showdown is a repeat of the 2022 final, where an epic penalty shoot-out concluded with Kepa Arrizabalaga blasting his spot-kick over the crossbar to hand Liverpool the trophy.

Liverpool were in the hunt for a quadruple that year and they're competing on all four fronts again this campaign. Perched at the top of the Premier League standings, the EFL Cup offers the Reds their first chance of silverware this term and they remain in the frame for Europa League and FA Cup glory.

Jurgen Klopp's side are 8/13 to lift the EFL Cup trophy, while Chelsea are 13/10 to get Mauricio Pochettino's tenure up and running with a major honour.

Life under the Argentine has been mediocre at best, though the Blues have demonstrated signs of improvement in recent weeks and their progress in cup competitions has offered respite from their league struggles.

Assessing where the game can be won or lost, we've identified the key battles in the final.

Chelsea v Liverpool


Nicolas Jackson v Virgil van Dijk

It should be of little surprise that Virgil van Dijk's return to form coincides with Liverpool challenging for major honours.

Embracing captain responsibilities following the departure of Jordan Henderson, Van Dijk may never recapture his form of 2019 but he remains the benchmark for Premier League defenders, and his contributions have helped Liverpool to boast one of the best defensive records in the Premier League.

What's impressive is that despite the plethora of injuries to defensive personnel, Van Dijk has remained largely untroubled.

The Netherlands international will be integral to the success of Klopp's side on Sunday and Nicolas Jackson faces the unenviable task of finding a way past the Liverpool centre back.

Jackson's profligacy has been a source of frustration, with the striker returning seven goals from an xG of 12.27. Signed from Villarreal for £31.8million in the summer, Jackson has been guilty of squandering an abundance of chances and yet he continues to find himself in good positions around the opposition penalty area.

Jackson delivered arguably his best performance in a Chelsea shirt in the 1-1 draw with Manchester City, exhibiting excellent link-up play and providing Pochettino's side with the platform from which they can attack.

Nullifying the Senegalese striker will be key if Liverpool are to reduce Chelsea's attacking threat.

Raheem Sterling v Conor Bradley

Returning to his former club, we witnessed the best and the worst of Raheem Sterling in Chelsea's stalemate with Manchester City.

The 29-year-old displayed excellent composure to evade the challenge of Kyle Walker, cut back onto his right foot and bend the ball around Ederson; it was Sterling at his clinical best. It was just that, in the minutes prior, he had another opportunity having breached the Man City defence, only to miscue at the edge of the area and let the ball trickle into Ederson's grateful clutches.

On Sunday, he will come up against a full back who dismantled Chelsea when the two sides met in the league last month.

Deputising for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Bradley has grasped his chance with both hands and flourished. Registering a goal and two assists in the encounter with the Blues at Anfield, Bradley was a constant menace as he marauded down the right flank, carving chances at will.

If Pochettino's side are to get a grasp of Bradley's attacking influence, Sterling must find a way to keep him occupied.

Moises Caicedo v Alexis Mac Allister

Moises Caicedo has endured an underwhelming start to life at Chelsea and his passive performance in the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool epitomised the Ecuadorian's struggles since his £115m move from Brighton.

Caicedo was anonymous as Liverpool's fluid midfield orchestrated one attack after the other. Against Manchester City he was combative, although he was lucky to still be on the pitch having avoided punishment for a reckless challenge on Jeremy Doku in the first half.

He will reacquaint himself with former Seagulls colleague Alexis Mac Allister at Wembley and Caicedo must reduce the Argentine's output if Chelsea are to have a chance of emerging victorious.

There's been plenty of talk about Mac Allister's best position since his £35m switch to Liverpool. When he has a fully fit squad at his disposal, Klopp seemingly prefers Mac Allister as a No.6 but in the victories against Brentford and Luton, the World Cup winner demonstrated he is just as effective as an eight.

His driving runs towards the penalty area will need to be picked up and if they're not, Mac Allister has the tools to punish opponents.

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