Is the Carling Cup giving hangovers?

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When Steven Gerrard lifted the Carling Cup above his head following Liverpool’s triumph, none would have expected the dip that has followed.

Kenny Dalglish and his men were talking about it being a springboard to greater things and that the winning feeling would spur them into the top four and maybe even FA Cup glory later.

It is too early to say the Anfield club have suffered a Carling Cup hangover, but they have certainly not reacted to it in the way they claimed they would.

It would not be the first time a side has suffered after mid-season success in the League Cup competition; just last year Birmingham City pulled off a huge upset by beating Arsenal but subsequently went on a horror run and were relegated.

Nobody is suggesting that Liverpool may get relegated, but it begs the question as to why they have reacted so badly to their victory at the new Wembley.

Arsenal’s loss last year precipitated an almighty collapse of form, which has gone on to affect their current season and it could be argued that they are only just beginning to recover fully from it.

You can begin to understand why such a devastating defeat – a defensive blunder in the last minute handed the game to Birmingham – can cause significant psychological damage, but a win?

Alex McLeish’s side were full of energy and played to their strengths perfectly to unsettle the Gunners and deserved their win, but they could not reproduce the spirit and organisation at all in the remainder of their league campaign.

Liverpool lost their first game after the win over Cardiff City on penalties against Arsenal; it was their first defeat at Anfield this season but they were unfortunate to suffer an injury time strike by the currently sensational Robin van Persie.

The same cannot be said of the dire loss at the Stadium of Light to Sunderland, where they were lacking any attacking drive and, though there was a hint of fortune about the Black Cats’ goal, they did not look like scoring in a month of Sundays.

One reason for the slump could be the physically and mentally draining experience of a cup final, where all your success is dependent on what you do over one 90 (or 120 in the latter case) minutes.

One reason may be the seriousness with which the bigger clubs now take the competition. Not in the earlier stages, of course, where it can feel more like a reserve cup than one of the major pieces of silverware in the season.

However, after watching the semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City, you cannot say either side were not taking it as seriously as possible.

This is a far cry from the Arsenal team who made the 2007 final with a side predominantly made up of young players, even so, a vastly more experienced Chelsea side were required to come from behind to win.

This greater amount of stock being placed in a league Cup win, in recent times anyway, could have come from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who bucked the then fashion for less experience in team selections and went all out to win.

At the time he claimed that he would try to win every competition he was in because it creates a winning mentality – his words looked to have rung true as they went on to dominate the English game over the next two seasons.

It has become more important for teams to at least be seen to win the trophy over the past few seasons, which means less inclination for selecting weaker sides to normal.

Perhaps this has also meant that greater fatigue is felt by those teams who make the final and so form suffers in the immediate aftermath of the match.

Or it could be down to a difficulty in creating motivation for the squad after there had been so much build-up to the showcase in the middle of the season.

Planning for the game would have begun weeks in advance and the amount of energy committed to it would most likely be much greater than usual.

Whatever it is, the Carling Cup could well be creating a curse for the winners and finalists and Kenny Dalglish must work hard to halt the current dip in form.

It would be cruel irony for a triumph so vociferously feted in its immediate aftermath to become an albatross around the neck of a side desperately hoping for a return to supremacy.

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Robin Van Persie
League Cup
Premier League
Steven Gerrard

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