THE BIG MATCH
The first domestic final of the season takes place at Wembley on Sunday (4pm kick-off) as Malky Mackay's Cardiff City look to cause an upset against Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool.
Promotion chasing Cardiff stand in the way of Liverpool's first trophy in six years but there is no way that the wily Dalglish will take fellow Scot Mackay's side for granted
"We have given ourselves a chance by getting there and let's see how we get on," he told www.liverpoolfc.tv. "We're not going to jump ahead of ourselves. It's going to be a really difficult game for us. It's just as huge a match for Cardiff as it is for us.
"If we want to have any designs on winning the match we need to play to our full capacity.
"We have still got a huge opportunity in front of us to make the season relatively successful. We've got the Carling Cup final, the sixth round of the FA Cup at home to Stoke and some really important league matches coming up.
"It could be a decent season for everybody. Irrespective of what happens in one game, we cannot carry it on into the next game.
"We had a great result against Brighton but we cannot carry that on into Sunday. We have to start from scratch and prepare the best we can for Cardiff. Let's go one at a time and see where it takes us."
Dalglish, making his 21st appearance at Wembley, sees the game as a reward for the current players who have started to lift the club back to the heights it achieved during the manager's playing days at Anfield:
"I think it's important that they get the accolades they deserve. When I came to the club as a player, I may have been the only one who came in that year. I was walking straight into a really successful club, who had won the league, been to the Cup final and won the European Cup.
"Everything was set, everything was there. It was still a work in progress but where they were coming from was a really high standard. We weren't at that standard when I came back as a manager. We have to try and get there.
"So for the lads to have made the contribution they have is great. Not just the nine who have come in but the lads who have been here for a while. The likes of Stevie, Carra, Pepe and Daniel Agger. All of them have made a contribution.
"The fact they have come in and all got on so well with each other is reflected in the results that they've had. Aside from two or three blips they have done particularly well in their first season together."
Cardiff manager Mackay admits his side are "massive underdogs" but having seen Birmingham City upset Arsenal in last year's final believes his side can go on to the Wembley pitch with no fear and nothing to lose. With his side in the Play-Off places and chasing promotion Mackay hopes to be facing this calibre of opposition every week next season, but is realistic about his side's chances on Sunday.
"My players are looking forward to getting out there and testing themselves." he told the Liverpool Echo. "We are obviously massive underdogs if you look at the two clubs. Nine times out of 10 the underdogs are beaten, but there is that one other time.
"Any team going to Wembley is playing against 11 guys and anything can happen. Last year it was Birmingham, who went on to be relegated at the end of the season. They faced Arsenal and no-one was giving them a prayer either."
Mackay's success in his first season in charge was rewarded with a new three-and-a-half year contract this week.
HEAD TO HEAD
The last time the two sides met was also in the Carling Cup when they met at Anfield on Halloween in 2007. The Reds triumphed 2-1 that day on their way to the final.
However over the years they have won only nine games against Cardiff as opposed to 18 wins for the Bluebirds. You need to go back to 1960 to find the last time the clubs were in the same division, and Cardiff did the double that year with a 3-2 win at Ninian Park and a 4-0 thrashing at Anfield. Indeed they won nine out of ten meetings prior to that 2007 encounter.
ROUTE TO THE FINAL
Both sides began their 2011/12 Carling Cup campaigns with 3-1 away wins.
Liverpool have had to do it the hard way this season with every game until the second leg of the semi-final away from home.
They kicked off their campaign with a 3-1 win at npower League 1 side Exeter City, Luis Suarez, Maxi Rodriguez, and Andy Carroll bagging the goals before stepping things up with a 2-1 win at Brighton & Hove Albion in Round 3. Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt were on target in that game.
They continued their away run with a brace from Suarez to beat Stoke City 2-1 at the Britannia Stadium which guided them to a quarter-final clash at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.
Rodriguez and young defender Martin Kelly helped Dalglish's side to a 2-0 win to set up a semi-final against Manchester City. Steven Gerrard, always a man for the big occasion, gave them a priceless 1-0 win in the away leg and then scored again in a topsy-turvy second leg at Anfield in which Craig Bellamy netted against his former club to earn a 2-2 draw that guided them to Wembley.
Cardiff meanwhile have gone the extra mile in their run to the final, needing extra time in their first three games of the competition.
They began with a 3-1 win at Oxford United in Round 1 where Crag Conway, Peter Whittingham and Nathaniel Jarvis grabbed the goals. Conway was then twice on target in a remarkable 5-3 win at Huddersfield Town in Round 2, with Jon Parkin, Don Cowie, and Darcy Blake also on target.
They then came perilously close to ending their Carling Cup adventure when drawn at home to Leicester City in the third round. Cowie and Rudy Gestede chipped in with goals in a 2-2 draw after extra time but it took a nail-biting 7-6 win on penalties to get them through.
Round 4 was more straightforward with a 1-0 home win over Burnley thanks to Joe Mason's goal, before the Bluebirds came up against higher league opposition for the first time, beating Blackburn Rovers 2-0 with goals from Kenny Miller and Anthony Gerrard.
The semi-final was an all npower Championship encounter with Crystal Palace taking a 1-0 lead from the first leg at Selhurst Park thanks to an Anthony Gardener header. However Gardener then put through his own goal in the return leg to force the game in to a penalty shoot-out where keeper Tom Heaton was the hero with two saves in a 3-1 penalty win to hand the Bluebirds their first ever Carling Cup final appearance.
While Dalglish is playing his cards close to his chest the one big decision he faces is whether to play Craig Bellamy against the club he has supported all of his life. Bellamy scored 11 times on loan at Cardiff last season and has already promised that he will not be celebrating if he scores:
"My father is a Cardiff fan as are my family. I set one ambition in my life and that was to play for them and I was able to do that - but it is funny how football works out.
"I've never played against them and it is not something I've really looked forward to doing to be honest. I certainly wouldn't celebrate [if I score] - but I tried not to against Manchester City but with the occasion and the moment you can get carried away."
Cardiff will give late fitness tests to defender Mark Hudson and midfielder Stephen McPhail. Hudson is carrying a calf problem while McPhail is continuing to try and manage the Sjogren's Syndrome, where the immune system attacks the body's moisture-producing glands, that he has suffered from in recent months.
Mackay is expected to hand the captaincy to Peter Whittingham if Hudson and McPhail are unavailable.