Willy Caballero rewarded boss Manuel Pellegrini’s faith as Manchester City claimed the League Cup for a fourth time after a penalty shoot-out win over Liverpool.
In a tense outcome at Wembley, the Argentine keeper was the hero as he saved from Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho and then Adam Lallana to seal a 3-1 success after a 1-1 draw following extra time.
For Caballero, it was a dream moment after a difficult time at City. The proverbial ‘cup keeper’ had helped them get this far, but many felt Pellegrini should have gone with No1 Joe Hart instead for such an important game.
And it was a night of contrasting fortunes for the two keepers on show.
After a brilliant save to push a Sergio Aguero shot onto the post in the first-half, Reds stopper Simon Mignolet blundered in the 49th minute in allowing Fernandinho’s finish to squirm under his body.
But Coutinho levelled with just seven minutes left when he pounced after Lallana’s effort had hit the post.
Mignolet then atoned for his earlier error with saves from Fernando, Yaya Toure and Aguero again before he watched his counterpart steal the limelight.
On his last appearance at Wembley, Caballero conceded three on debut in a FA Community Shield loss to Arsenal in 2014 and let in five against Chelsea in his side’s FA Cup exit last weekend.
This time he was called into action after just 36 seconds when Daniel Sturridge released Alberto Moreno in space on the left and the left-back’s shot was low and true, but held well.
That will have given his defence reassurance, but so too the presence of captain Vincent Kompany as he made a couple of timely interceptions to break up threatening Liverpool attacks.
At the other end, City looked to Aguero to unsettle and unhinge a Reds backline that had Lucas Leiva, usually a midfielder, alongside Mamadou Sakho.
He almost did that in the 23rd minute when David Silva’s cute pass split the two centre-backs and Aguero raced away, cut across both Lucas and Sakho, but Mignolet touched the curling strike against the post.
It also proved to be Sakho’s final moment of action as he went off, still feeling the effects of a nasty clash of heads with Emre Can.
On came Kolo Toure, former captain of City and brother of Yaya. The irony added to the special occasion as the 34-year-old attempted to keep Aguero and Co out.
But just four minutes after the restart, Aguero held the ball up for Fernandinho and his charge on the right ended with a shot that went under the dive of Mignolet. It was poor from the Belgian and City took control.
Raheem Sterling had the perfect chance to silence the Liverpool boo-boys, still angry about his summer departure, when Yaya Toure and Silva worked an opening for him on the hour. But, six yards out and unmarked, the £49 million man fired wide.
And there was bemusement when referee Michael Oliver did not award Aguero a penalty when he turned Moreno and a dangling leg brought him down.
Sterling then missed another opportunity and Liverpool pressed in desperation and Coutinho took the tie into extra time with his fifth goal against City.
Extra time was equally tense as Mignolet denied Aguero again, while Caballero made a point-blank save from Divock Origi’s header. So came the lottery of spot-kicks and, despite Fernandinho hitting a post, City cashed in for the first trophy of the campaign as Caballero stepped up and Yaya Toure slotted home.