Plenty Of Positives As Liverpool Progress Against The Potters

After stretching our nerves to breaking point, Liverpool eventually advanced to the Capital

One Cup final via a 6-5 penalty shootout win against Stoke. Despite taking a 1-0 lead into the

Anfield leg, the hosts were unable to make light work of the tie – normal time ended 1-0 to

Stoke, sending the game into extra time and then penalties. Joe Allen scored the decisive

spot kick to give Liverpool a deserved trip to Wembley to face either Everton or Manchester

City.

Source: liverpoolfc.com

Source: liverpoolfc.com

Liverpool started brightly – they employed a very high press, and Stoke looked rocked early

on. It was only a lack of composure in advanced positions that prevented Liverpool from

extending their aggregate lead in the first ten minutes: Firmino, Lallana and Milner were all

guilty of misjudging would-be incisive passes in the final third. In fairness, however, there

were impressive elements to their game; Milner looked much improved going forward, and

Lallana played in an uncharacteristically direct, threatening fashion. This was epitomised by

a determined sprint past his man down the left wing – it was certainly a refreshing change

from the series of pointless Cruyff turns we had been accustomed to until recently. Firmino

struggled to get involved at any point in the game, although this was not entirely his fault.

Milner and Lallana regularly drifted out into conventional wide positions, but they would

have been better off functioning more like inside forwards in order to facilitate better link-

up play with the Brazilian; he was once again playing at false 9, which involves regularly

dropping back into the midfield. Despite this, it was Liverpool who dominated the very early

exchanges.

The visitors, however, quickly got back into the game. They managed to maintain a good

spell of possession, and this settled the game down a lot. Indeed it went flat for a lot of the

first half – energy was provided by Moreno, who was frankly running around like a madman

for much of the game, but on the whole things were fairly sedate. Peter Crouch was

unsurprisingly winning the majority of his headers against Sakho and Toure, but his

knockdowns weren’t finding anyone. Any attacks from Stoke that did not involve long balls

up to the big forward were broken up well by Lucas, who was defensively stronger than

usual for much of the game. However, it was partially his error that lead to Stoke’s goal on

the stroke of half-time: he failed to track Arnautovic’s run from deep, and the Austrian was

able to burst into the box and slot the ball home. He was clearly offside, and the goal was

scored in a minute that there was no real justification for adding, but it was always likely

that Liverpool would be punished if they let their tempo drop.

Rather than inspiring Liverpool on to a better performance, the goal only served to

encourage Stoke. The second half was a much better spectacle, but for the wrong reasons:

Stoke were on the front foot, and were only kept out by a series of last-ditch blocks and

challenges. Sakho, who in truth had a fairly average first half, was immense: on two or three

occasions he slid in magnificently to prevent what looked like certain goals. Flanagan also

deserves a mention: it was far from a perfect performance at right-back, but considering

how long he has been out for he did an excellent job. Goal aside, he largely kept Arnautovic

very quiet – after the game, Jurgen Klopp singled him out as Man of the Match. Although in

an ideal scenario we would not have been put under such pressure, it was good to see our

defence managing to hold on: it was a much more resolute display than that of Norwich at

the very least.

This success in preventing Stoke from scoring a telling second sent the game to extra time.

The away goals rule meant that a goal for Stoke would all but sink Liverpool, as they would

need to reply with two goals of their own; they held firm, however, and the tie went to

penalties. It was very hard to call – Liverpool boast an extremely impressive overall record in

shootouts, but Stoke had already won two of their previous games in the competition –

including one against Chelsea – via penalties. Sure enough, the quality of spot kicks was fairly

high: a Mignolet save against Crouch and a narrow miss from Can meant that both sides

failed to convert the second penalty, but the other eight were all slotted away well. At 4-4

after five penalties each, it went to sudden death – again there was no mistake from either

side, making the score 5-5. At this point, however, the situation changed. Marc Muinesa’s

penalty was not particularly bad, but Mignolet made a brilliant save to deny him. This meant

that the task of sending us to Wembley fell to Joe Allen. Much maligned, he has recently

managed to develop something of a cult hero status: his ‘no-look pass’, late equaliser

against Arsenal and vague resemblance to Pirlo have all endeared him to the Anfield

faithful. This reputation will only have been enhanced by his extremely cool penalty: he sent

it high into the top right, and sent the crowd into raptures.

Of course nobody is under the illusion that the Capital One Cup is the most prestigious piece

of silverware, but it would still be excellent to win it. Aside from the fact that it secures at

least some form of European football next season, it also provides a morale boost: winning a

trophy can never be a bad thing. We also remain in the Europa League and FA Cup –

although there is a long way to go in both competitions, the fact we still have the potential

to win three pieces of silverware is an encouraging one. For once, Liverpool are justified in

citing ‘a season of transition’ as an excuse: things were never going to immediately click into

place with a new manager, so if we did manage to win a cup this season I think it would be a

great achievement. An improved performance will be required in the final to claim victory,

but there were enough positives in this game to show that we are capable of playing to a

much higher standard. Roll on Wembley!

James Martin

James Martin

My name is James Martin. I'm a 19-year-old living in Maidenhead and studying in Oxford. Though not from Liverpool, I'm as passionate about the Reds as any scouser!
James Martin