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Liverpool survive penalties to reach Capital One Cup final

Joe Allen of Liverpool sends Stoke’s goalkeeper Jack Butland the wrong way for his side’s winning penalty. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Joe Allen of Liverpool sends Stoke’s goalkeeper Jack Butland the wrong way for his side’s winning penalty. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Joe Allen of Liverpool sends Stoke’s goalkeeper Jack Butland the wrong way for his side’s winning penalty. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

It took a nervy penalty shootout for Liverpool to finally get the better of Stoke City, as Jurgen Klopp ensured his Reds would battle for at least one title this season.

Liverpool went into the match with a 1-0 advantage, but Marko Arnautovic scored from a clearly offside position in first-half added time to take the game to extra time and penalties. However, there was no glory for Mark Hughes’ team, who ended up on the wrong side of a 6-5 final score.

The oft-criticised Simon Mignolet was Liverpool’s unlikely hero during the spot kicks, saving efforts from Peter Crouch and Marc Muniesa, and leaving Joe Allen free to step up and secure a meeting with either Manchester City or neighbours Everton for the Capital One Cup final at Wembley on February 28.

Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan, Ibrahim Affelay, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marco Van Ginkel were on target for Stoke while Adam Lallana, Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Lucas scored from the spot for Liverpool before Allen put the game to bed.

After the game, Liverpool manager Klopp said: “It was great, the atmosphere was special. It was a good game for my side against a difficult side to play. They changed their style today. It was keeper Jack Butland to Peter Crouch so it was difficult to defend. We had a few problems, but they didn’t have too many opportunities. Their goal was double offside but, in the end, we had luck in the penalty shootout. Over the whole 120 minutes, the players, crowd and Liverpool deserved it.”

Klopp guns for soothing glory

Klopp has had mixed fortunes since his appointment in early October. But he now has a chance to soothe frayed nerves at the club and stamp his authority with a title as early as February.

While the League Cup is not considered the biggest prize in England, it gives Liverpool a chance to win their first trophy in four years. Incidentally, that piece of silverware came when they won the same tournament under Kenny Dalglish against Cardiff City in 2012.

“Wembley is a cool place to play football,” said Klopp, “but we go there to win. It’s not much fun to lose.”

If he does take Liverpool to a Cup win in February, Klopp would be following the example of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, who won this trophy during their first season as a manager in England.

Klopp can build on his impact since his arrival in England at Wembley, where he led Borussia Dortmund to Champions League final defeat against Bayern Munich in 2013.

Stoke so near yet so far

A banner fluttering in the Anfield Road End among the massed ranks of Stoke fans called on their players to summon “The Spirit Of 72”, the year they won their first and last major trophy – a League Cup final win over Chelsea at Wembley.

And after Arnautovic’s contentious goal, it looked like they would get the chance to join the ranks of heroes such as Gordon Banks and George Eastham as they took the fight to Liverpool in spells of inspired football.

Manager Mark Hughes must have been almost as exhausted as his players at the painful conclusion, contesting every decision and urging his men on for 120 minutes. Sadly for Stoke and their thousands of fans, it was not to be.

“I thought we were by far the better team,” he said. “We were behind in the tie and I’m proud of what the players produced. We got a win on paper. Goodness knows how long it’s been since we won here – but the objective was to get to a Wembley final which we didn’t.”

However, Stoke’s mature performance at Anfield in the first leg – their first victory there since 1959 – and their spirit to the take the tie to penalties were indicators of their growing maturity despite the disappointment of defeat.

“Nobody gave us a chance – why they would do that I don’t know. We’ve proved for a couple of years that we’re a good team.”

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