Pellegrini has earned respect for the dignified manner he has maintained after being told Pep Guardiola would be taking his job.
His treatment of Caballero only strengthened his reputation, with the manager standing by the keeper who helped his side to the final and the Argentine responded with three outstanding saves in the penalty shoot-out to finally kill off Liverpool’s challenge.
Pilloried after his mistake-laden display at Chelsea seven days earlier, Caballero could not be faulted when it mattered most, saving Lucas Leiva, Philippe Countinho and Adam Lallana after Emre Can had converted Liverpool’s first effort.
Yaya Toure sealed the victory, adding to penalties by Sergio Aguero and Jesus Navas that followed an initial miss from Gael Clichy. The trophy was finally in Pelleginri’s hands after Coutinho had forced the game into extra-time by cancelling out Fernandinho’s opening goal.
City were finally rewarded for keeping their nerve, although had they showed similar composure in normal time, there would have been no need for extra-time. The outcome for Jurgen Klopp and his players, however, was the same with the German’s search for a first trophy since taking charge at Liverpool set to continue.
The opening 45 minutes did little to strengthen this game’s claim to be one of the showcases of the season. On paper, the game featured two goalkeepers both capable of making a mistake, protected by defences that have hardly become a byword for security the season, raising the possibility of an open game with attacks on top. The reality was very different.
While City’s David Silva and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho worked hard to provide the creative spark that would ignite the final, their efforts were largely smothered by an attrictional midfield contest that City shaded without transforming that superiority into goal.
A 16th minute clash of heads between Mamadou Sakho and team-mate Emre Can forced Liverpool into an early reshuffle with Sakho withdrawn eight minutes later after his inability to continue had been confirmed when he was unable to counter Sergio Aguero’s powerful run forward.
On that occasion Mignolet came to his side’s rescue, producing an excellent one-handed save to divert Aguero’s shot against the post, snuffing out a rare moment of threat during a frustrating half.
The second period was very different. Fernandinho’s goal four minutes after the restart finally brought the game to life, injecting a sense of urgency that had largely been absent beforehand.
With all the forward talent on display, it was perhaps surprising the goal came from the Brazilian who had looked uncomfortable in the wide right role up to that point. He could not be faulted, however, for the timing of his powerful run forward to get in support of Aguero after the striker had collected an excellent cross-field ball from David Silva.
Charging into the box on the overlap, Fernandinho drilled a low shot from a tight angle that Mignolet should have dealt with easily. Instead, the Belgian allowed the ball to squeeze under his body and suddenly Klopp’s hopes of collecting his first honour in England drifted further away.
Liverpool initially appeared stunned at falling behind as City began to display more control and authority. A neat one-two between Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson in the 56th minute provided a reminder of their attacking capabilities although James Milner’s failure to finish the move with a shot on target was wasteful.
Klopp’s side had cause to be grateful one of their former players was equally wasteful. Raheem Sterling was desperate to make an impression against the club he left last summer.
He did, but not in the way he had hoped. Gifted the chance to add a second goal on the hour after being teed up by Aguero’s pull-back, Sterling scuffed his shot from six yards out, placing his effort wide.
That was a huge let-off for Klopp’s side, the first of many during the final stages of normal time with Sterling again guilty of an embarrassing miscue in the 80th minute after Aguero had earlier seen an effort saved.
Sterling’s second miss appeared particularly costly when Liverpool responded with an equaliser three minutes later when Coutinho finished well after Lallana’s shot bounced back off the post.
Extra-time beckoned with Liverpool growing in stature and City apparently holding on. The roles were reversed dramatically after the final whistle, however, and the trophy was in City’s hands.
Mignolet 6; Clyne 6, Leiva 8, Sakho 6 (Toure 25, 7), Moreno 5 (Lallana 72, 6); Can 7, Henderson 6; Milner 7, Firmino 6 (Origi 80, 6), Coutinho 7; Sturridge 7.
Bogdan, Benteke, Allen, Flanagan.
Caballero 9; Sagna 6 (Zabaleta 91, 6), Kompany 8, Otamendi 7, Clichy 7; Fernando 7 (Navas 91, 6), Toure 6; Fernandinho 7, Silva 8 (Bony 110, 6), Sterling 5; Aguero 7.
Hart, Kolarov, Demichelis, Ihenacho.
Michael Oliver 7