Jurgen Klopp’s Reds turn their attentions to the League Cup on Tuesday night, as they take on Stoke City in the first leg of the semi-final clash.
Stoke v Liverpool
5th January 2016, 20:00pm (GMT)
League Cup Semi Final first leg
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Liverpool begin their pursuit of reaching a 12th League Cup final as they travel to the Britannia Stadium for the first leg of the last four tie.
After a poor opening to 2016 in the Premier League, the competition provides a welcome distraction for Klopp’s depleted squad, who play the second of three games in just seven days as the fixtures continue to come thick and fast.
The League Cup offers an early chance of silverware for Klopp who will be desperate to lead the Reds to Wembley just months after taking charge at Anfield, but Mark Hughes’ men provide a stern test, with Liverpool needing to improve at both ends to return home with an advantage.
The two sides meet at a traditionally difficult ground for Liverpool where the Reds look to record successive wins for the first time.
The Reds have experienced two completely contrasting visits on their last two trips, eradicating memories of the horror show of last May with a 1-0 win on the opening day of the season in August.
Philippe Coutinho’s superb late strike handed Brendan Rodgers’ men the perfect start to the new season, on a typically testing afternoon at the Britannia.
That victory four months ago added to Liverpool’s recent positive record against Tuesday’s opponents, who the Reds have beaten in four of the last five meetings.
Liverpool have never lost a League Cup game against Stoke in five meetings, including posting an 8-0 victory in 2000 and the last seeing Kenny Dalglish’s side win 2-1 courtesy of a superb brace from Luis Suarez on their way to lifting the trophy in 2011.
Klopp will be looking to extend the impressive cup record in his first semi-final match.
Like Liverpool, Stoke come into the clash looking to bounce back from starting 2016 with defeat.
In fact, the two clubs arrive in exactly the same form, posting two wins, two losses, and a draw from their last five league games, though the Potters scored eight goals in comparisons to Liverpool’s four across the five matches.
After winning only on penalties against League Two outfit Luton Town in the first round, Hughes’ side overcame Chelsea also in a shoot-out win, before beating Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday to reach the semi-finals.
The Potters have beaten Man City, Man United, and Chelsea twice at home this season though, and look to add the Reds to their list of scalps.
After a similarly sticky start against Carlisle, Klopp’s side enjoyed a more straightforward journey to the final four, beating Bournemouth and smashing Southampton 6-1 in the last round.
Klopp’s men have won one of their last five away games in all competitions, and they will need to improve that in order to return home with an advantage.
Form Guide (Last 10 games, all competitions)
A first leg victory for Klopp’s men is priced at 6/4, with a stalemate valued at 11/5 and a first tie advantage for Hughes’ side available at 2/1.
In stark contrast to Klopp, Hughes has an almost full squad at his disposal, with only Shay Given missing.
The Stoke boss is also waiting on the outcome of Geoff Cameron’s appeal over his sending off at the weekend, which will determine his availability for the tie.
Glen Johnson is in line to play against the Reds for the second time since leaving last summer, while Charlie Adam could deputise for Cameron should the appeal prove unsuccessful, but fellow ex-Red Peter Crouch is unlikely to start.
MH: They still need to come up with a game plan. For us, it's a good time to play them because we're at home & looking for a reaction
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 4, 2016
Joselu and John Walters are pushing for starting berths in attack however, after positive impacts from the bench at the weekend, but Hughes could stick with the fluid and dangerous front four of Ibrahim Afellay, Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan.
Reds will have to ensure they’re defensively compact to counter the movement of Stoke’s roaming attacking quartet, while pace and movement up against the sluggish Stoke backline could prove the opening to a first leg success.
What the Managers Say
Klopp talked cup glory, injuries and praised Stoke’s quality in his pre-match press conference:
“There’s only one reason to be in tournaments and that’s to win it. That’s our target.
“We know about the quality of Stoke, of course. It’s the team I know most about because I know most of the players.
“We don’t have six, seven, eight players to change. We have to react to the impact the last game had on the players and decide.”
Prior to Liverpool’s second visit to Staffordshire this season, Hughes said:
“We don’t want to go to Anfield no longer in the tie. Our home form has been good. If we hit our levels, we can cause real problems.”
“Liverpool will be aiming to bounce back from their defeat. It has everything to be a good semi-final and one we’re looking forward to.
Tuesday night’s clash will be shown live on Sky Sports One in the UK, with the match also scheduled for broadcast on beIN Sport, SuperSport 3 and ESPN 2 all around the globe.
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