The 2000s were a significant decade when it comes to the history of the League Cup, with a change of venue for the Final and further records broken.
For the first time in English football history, the entire draw for each round was made after Round One. This meant each team could plot their route to the Final, as well as predicting future opponents.
Tranmere Rovers reached the first major cup final of their history with a fine win over Bolton Wanderers, while Leicester's victory over Aston Villa gave them their third appearance in the competition's Final in four years.
Leicester became the last team to win the League Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, securing a 2-1 win with nine minutes remaining. It was Martin O’Neill’s last great day with the club.
The first major English cup final to be decided on penalties, and the first at the Millennium Stadium.
Liverpool were appearing in their eighth final; they had previously won six and lost two, whilst Birmingham were there for the second time. Robbie Fowler put Liverpool in front after half an hour but a Darren Purse penalty salvaged the game for Birmingham in the final minute of normal time.
It was Liverpool’s first trophy for six years and the first of three for Gerard Houllier that season.
A year which saw Blackburn Rovers win their first silverware since 1928, as they deservedly saw off Tottenham 2-1 in Cardiff, even without their Turkish midfielder Tugay, who was suspended.
Having been left out of the England squad by Glenn Hoddle who said he “needed four or five chances to score”, Andy Cole grabbed the winner with an inventive effort, saying afterwards “it made me feel really good!” At the other end, they had Brad Friedel to thank for a Man-of-the-Match display.
For the second time in three years, and a record seventh time, the trophy belonged to Liverpool, as they beat rivals Manchester United 2-0 in the Final. It was United’s first final since their memorable 1999 Champions League triumph.
Another inspired goalkeeping performance, this time from Jerzy Dudek, proved crucial, and it was England duo Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen who found the net at the other end. Dudek even drew praise from Sir Alex Ferguson after the game, as he said “their goalkeeper has won them the game.”
After over a century as a professional club, Middlesbrough finally got their hands on a trophy, the Carling Cup. Having twice been runners-up in the competition, they raced into an early, two-goal lead against Bolton Wanderers, setting the tone for a 2-1 win.
Joseph-Désiré Job’s second-minute goal was the fastest goal scored in a final, but not for long.
Bolton's run to the Final had included a win away to holders Liverpool in Round Four, the side they lost to in ’95, but they were beaten here despite a fight-back. As a result of Boro’s win, they qualified for the 2004/05 UEFA Cup, their first European competition.
Enter, the ‘Special One’. Jose Mourinho’s first trophy in English football was indeed the League Cup, and it was won in typical Mourinho fashion.
Again, Liverpool were appearing in the Final, but it was Chelsea – appearing in their fourth Final – who won the day. Liverpool had taken the lead early on and held it until 12 minutes from time, with Chelsea’s equaliser seeing Mourinho embark on one of his trademark sprints down the touchline.
Chelsea scored twice more in extra-time, and Liverpool once, but the Blues held on to win the trophy for a third time. It was to be Liverpool’s year in Europe though, of course…
“For you, Smudge.”
Manchester United dedicated their ’06 triumph to midfielder Alan Smith, who had broken his left leg during a recent match against Liverpool. They won comfortably against Wigan Athletic in Cardiff, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo on the scoresheet as they recorded a 4-0 victory. Louis Saha, preferred to Ruud van Nistelrooy, had scored in every round, and also found the net.
Wigan goalkeeper Mike Pollitt picked up a hamstring injury after just 14 minutes, cutting short a dream Final for the journeyman player, who started his career with the Reds.
Cardiff’s League Cup swansong will be remembered as a feisty affair, contested between Arsenal and Chelsea. Many will remember John Terry leaving the stadium of a stretcher, having been knocked out cold by a stray boot, as well as the red cards shown to John Obi Mikel, Kolo Toure and, after some deliberation, Emmanuel Adebayor.
In total, Chelsea scored 14 goals in the 2006/07 competition, while conceding only two, including Theo Walcott’s opener in the Final. This was their fourth League Cup triumph.
Chelsea and Mourinho were back for more in 2008, this time in new surroundings, with the first-ever Final held under the arch at the new Wembley Stadium. Having beaten their great rivals and previous season’s Finalists Arsenal convincingly in the Semi-Finals, Tottenham came into the match full of confidence, and were seeking a first trophy in nine years.
Chelsea took the lead in the 37th minute, though, through a Didier Drogba free-kick. This goal made the striker the first player to score in three League Cup Finals, having also done so in 2005 and 2007. Spurs hit back from the penalty spot to take the game to extra-time, where Jonathan Woodgate scored the decisive goal.
For Chelsea, it was the second of four competitions in which they would finish as runners-up that season, after they lost to Manchester United in the Community Shield and ended up finishing as runners-up to the same team in the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.
It was left to Harry Redknapp to try to emulate what Juande Ramos had done 12 months before him as Spurs returned to Wembley to face Manchester United in ’09.
Tottenham did enough to take the game all the way to penalties following a goalless draw, but it was to be a familiar story for Englishman from the spot, as Jamie O’Hara and David Bentley both missed. It allowed Brazilian midfielder Anderson to step up and confirm United’s third League Cup triumph. It was only the second time that the League Cup Final had been decided by a penalty shoot-out.
The Man of the Match was Ben Foster, who became the first goalkeeper since Jerzy Dudek in 2003 to win the Alan Hardaker Trophy.