Liverpool reached the League Cup final on Tuesday evening, following a nervy penalty shootout win against Stoke City at Anfield.
The Reds’ performance was dire in the 120 minutes of action prior to the shootout, but who cares? We’re going to Wembley!
Marko Arnautovic’s first-half strike, which was criminally offside, proved to be the only goal on the night, with spot-kicks eventually having to decide the winner.
Simon Mignolet made himself a hero, making a tremendous save to deny Marc Muniesa, and man-of-the-moment Joe Allen coolly dispatched his effort to send Liverpool through.
The celebrations were once again memorable, and Jurgen Klopp will now return to the venue where his Borussia Dortmund side lost the Champions League final back in 2013.
Here is how the media reacted to the Reds’ nerve-jangling victory:
James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo felt Liverpool were fortunate to progress in many ways, but focussed on the fact that Klopp has already reached a final with the Reds:
From Rome to Istanbul, Cardiff to Wembley, Liverpool have previous for putting their supporters through the wringer when the stakes have been high – but even by their standards this was excruciating.
Once again it came down to a shootout and once again those in red held their nerve to get the job done.
The heroes came in the most unlikely form as Simon Mignolet produced two stunning penalty saves from Peter Crouch and Marc Muniesa. Joe Allen then stepped up to seal a 6-5 triumph before being mobbed by his jubilant team-mates.
Finally, Klopp had his big Anfield moment. Just 111 days after his appointment he has guided Liverpool to a major final.
The overwhelming emotion was one of relief at the end of what had been a torturous evening. The Reds got themselves out of jail after producing an error-strewn performance which left so much to be desired.
The Mirror‘s David Maddock was not impressed by Liverpool’s defending throughout:
Not only are Liverpool poor at defending set pieces, they now seem to be totally scrambled when it comes to the simple process of organisation.
Too many times here, their centre halves didn’t seem to be capable of even the most rudimentary of communication lines, which offered for some shambolic, and at times comical, defending, with the pair getting in each others’ way.
A simple ball in behind from deep had them both turning in dread at the movement of Walters and Arnautovic behind them, and it seems the Reds have a real problem with clear leadership on the pitch.
The Guardian‘s Andy Hunter was full of praise for Allen, particularly in terms of his influence when he replaced Kolo Toure:
Joe Allen took the acclaim from his Liverpool team-mates as coolly as his decisive penalty, Lucas Leiva celebrated manically in front of 4,400 despairing Stoke City fans and Simon Mignolet wallowed in the Kop’s applause long after Jürgen Klopp’s latest chorus-line salute ended.
Three months into the job and Klopp has steered Liverpool to Wembley but their record 12th League Cup final appearance owed everything to the unsung, the unappreciated and the maligned in his ranks.
Liverpool reached Wembley the way their journey in the Capital One Cup had begun against Carlisle United; requiring penalties to save them from a witless, careless performance that only improved once the Wales midfielder replaced Kolo Touré in the 85th minute.
Allen injected accuracy into Liverpool’s passing that was sorely lacking and took a booking for the team when scything down Ibrahim Afellay as Stoke threatened to break away late on.
An away win at that stage would not have surprised an anxious Anfield but, as at Norwich City on Saturday, Klopp’s team edged it despite themselves. It is not the worst habit a manager can have.
The Echo‘s Neil Jones felt Klopp’s winning mentality was crucial, and that the Reds will need it at Wembley as well:
A penny for Brendan Rodgers’ thoughts as this madcap night unfolded.
This was the kind of performance Liverpool had produced too often during the Ulsterman’s reign at Anfield – notably in a semi final against Aston Villa last season – and yet it secured his successor a chance of silverware within five months of taking charge.
Anfield South will be in operation again at the end of February. Jurgen Klopp has the chance to make himself an instant Reds hero – that’s if he isn’t already.
The German, unlike so many of his players, knows how to win things. He knows what it takes, he knows what it means. He has the temperament for big games, big occasions. He belongs on that stage.
Liverpool will need their manager’s experience and know-how at Wembley, make no mistake. Because on this evidence the team doesn’t have nearly enough.
In his ESPN player ratings, Steven Kelly felt Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva were Liverpool’s three standout players on the night:
Mignolet (7/10) – He had little to do but again saw the opposition’s first effort on target go past him. This unwanted run has gone on for too long, but the Belgian showed a little more security in the air, as Stoke reverted to their Tony Pulis days with Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters often a real handful. He came to the fore during the penalties and was ultimately the key figure in Liverpool’s progression.
Sakho (7/10) – This was a gargantuan effort from the Frenchman, and he just about came out on top in his personal duel with Walters, as he blocked the Irish international’s shots on several occasions when a second goal seemed likely. On a night when Liverpool’s defence always looked at full stretch, he helped get Liverpool to the finish line where the penalty-takers and goalkeeper did the rest.
Lucas (7/10) – Seemingly repelling Stoke singlehandedly at one stage, he made another move into the back four and never let the Reds down. He took a cool penalty on his 300th Liverpool appearance and was a rock when others were a letdown.
LIVERPOOL 0-1 STOKE CITY (6-5 ON PENS)
- MATCH REPORT: Heroic Allen nets decisive penalty
- PLAYER RATINGS: Allen and Mignolet both get 7.5
- TALKING POINTS: Anfield raucous, silverware in sight
- FAN REACTIONS: “Wembley here we come!”
- PLAYER REACTIONS: “We did it together!”
- KLOPP’S WORDS: All-Merseyside League Cup final “will be great for the whole city”