Kenny Dalglish packed his side for the Carling Cup final with every one of the expensive signings he has made since his return as manager at Anfield
Haunted by the spectre of the general collapse that afflicted Arsenal in the wake of their defeat at the hands of supposedly inferior opponents in last year's Carling Cup final, Liverpool were made to wait until the last possible moment for their redemption on Sunday. In terms of sheer anguish for the Merseyside fans, the match must have felt as long as the 16 years separating this final from their club's last appearance at Wembley.
In the end the second era of Kenny Dalglish depended for its first trophy on a missed penalty by the cousin and boyhood playmate of their own captain. No footballer deserves the fate suffered by Anthony Gerrard more than two and a half hours after the match had kicked off.
The more famous of the cousins had missed his own effort from the penalty spot as Liverpool began the shootout, but his pain turned out to be ephemeral. A few minutes later he was lifting a trophy for the first time in six years.
This was not a performance to rank alongside those produced by successive Liverpool sides in the days when Wembley was Anfield South. Belatedly introduced by his manager, Dirk Kuyt eventually found the strike that finished off Cardiff City, rifling home a shot after his first effort had rebounded off Anthony Gerrard. But Dalglish's side are nowhere near ready to be spoken of in the same breath as the teams produced by Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, or the Dalglish sides of the time of Peter Beardsley and John Barnes.
No vanilla suits, and not much vanilla football either in a match that started with a brassy Liverpool fanfare and ended in a tumult of triumph and disaster. There were not 100 seconds on the clock when Steven Gerrard picked up a ball from Glen Johnson deep in his own half, drove forward into Cardiff territory and fed Stewart Downing wide on the left. The winger's immediate cut-back to Johnson encouraged the full-back to try a curling 25-yarder which smacked off the underside of the bar, prompting Gerrard to hurtle in for a follow-up that whistled into the crowd,
So far, so good for Liverpool: a raking attack, full of dynamism and hurtful intent, straight from the playbook of every great Anfield side, lacking only the finishing touch. But then, almost immediately, they started to aim long, high balls at Andy Carroll, to be rewarded with a series of ponytail-flicking headers that flew high and wide or into Tom Heaton's hands.
And so it went on until, after almost 20 minutes of virtually unrelieved dominance, they fell behind to a 20-year-old in the blue No20 shirt as Joe Mason slipped in to meet Kenny Miller's short, straight pass and angled his shot past José Reina.
The last time Liverpool were in this part of north-west London, Ian Rush came on as a late substitute to make his final appearance for the club. That's how long ago it was. Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat held the levers of power, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf were the Wimbledon singles champions, and Princess Di was in the process of securing her divorce.
Jamie Carragher, on the bench on Sunday, was an 18-year-old member of the Liverpool team who won the FA Youth Cup that season, alongside Michael Owen. Sunday's captain was a 15-year-old on a YTS contract.
Liverpool have won trophies since that ill-fated trip, which ended with a 1-0 defeat to Eric Cantona's goal for Manchester United, but there was a definite symbolic importance invested in their first visit to the new Wembley. To mark it, Dalglish packed his side with every one of the expensive signings he has made since his return as manager early in the season: Carroll, Luis Suárez, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and José Enrique – an aggregate of just over £100m worth of football talent, at Dalglish's valuation.
His other acquisition, Craig Bellamy, who arrived on a free transfer, was left on the bench until being invited to replace a lacklustre Henderson on the hour. His arrival ensured the presence of at least one Welshman on the pitch, until Malky Mackay introduced Darcy Blake for the second half of extra time.
The opening goal was scored by a man who cost Cardiff £250,000, and just as inevitably the equaliser was scored by a man brought to Liverpool by Rafa Benítez, Martin Skrtel swivelling like the Dalglish of old and finding the perfect shot for the occasion as Suárez's header came back off the post.
It was an unexpected reminder that the Slovak had started his career as a striker, until being converted to central defence by the coach of his national youth team.
But we had to wait until extra time for further goals, first from the opportunistic Kuyt and then, with dramatic timing, from Ben Turner. The penalties were torture for all concerned until Kuyt, Downing and Johnson finally started to knock them home for Liverpool and the younger Gerrard endured the moment in which Wembley collapsed around him.
And so, after all their investment and their tribulations, Liverpool and their American owners have their first trophy of the new era.
Whether it will have an effect opposite to that experienced by Arsenal a year ago remains to be seen.