You can tell that Jurgen Klopp still doesn’t know what to make of the League Cup, but he can’t resist a fight. There was much to love about Liverpool’s slapping down of the Leicester City Tories on Wednesday night.
This was one which procured us two extra games in January, just when we could really do without them, but when Diogo Jota dispatched the decisive penalty it was more about the eye-of-the-storm meaning, rather than the future workload and potential for lifting a first domestic knockout cup for a decade.
A pick n mix line-up and an initially unsatisfactory malfunction in assistance from experienced heads to the kids, and we found ourselves 2-0 down in under 15 minutes, Jamie Vardy skidding around the Anfield turf on his knees like a kid at the Christmas school disco after too many Wham bars. James Maddison would later do likewise, after ‘scuffing’ one in from distance. A magnificently struck effort to be fair.
Anfield was eventually roused by the irksomeness of the travelling Leicester supporters and their increasingly repetitive politically right-wing-leaning jibes and outmoded songs about starvation. In essence, it was the away section’s insistence of being a complete and utter set of bad Tories that proved the turning point of a game that Klopp’s side could easily have allowed to peter out into another meek League Cup exit.
Liverpool had lifted themselves from the canvass once already when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had drilled in a fine finish to bring us to 2-1, but it was the halftime changes that proved pivotal.
Conor Bradley, Billy Koumetio and Tyler Morton were all withdrawn at the interval after 45 minutes of varying degrees of over-impetuosity, and misadventure, to be replaced by Ibrahima Konaté, James Milner, and Naby Keïta, alterations that levelled the playing field against what was as full fat a Leicester team as Brendan Rodgers was able to name.
Like Tottenham at the weekend, Leicester’s players had been denied a game for ten days, and it isn’t outlandish to suggest that if they had played at Goodison three days earlier, as they were scheduled to do, then their line-up would not have been as strong as it was.
Nor would Leicester have been quite so energy-infused during an opening period where they could have scored five, arriving as they did as a team having tasted FA Cup success seven months ago, and clearly eager for another trip to Wembley.
But then came the second-half response, a fightback that was a bit like when that laidback no-nonsense fella sat at the bar temporarily steps away from his pint to put a gang of teenagers straight over them being a set of arses with the glass collector, and their insistence of sticking some hardcore rave on the jukebox before returning to his barstool to tell the barman never to skim an Erdinger.
Tellingly, it genuinely didn’t really matter that the prize on offer was a domestic cup semi-final, it was all about kicking the chair out from under an obnoxious visitor, and Liverpool did it in the most delightfully painful of ways.
It was a second half of big performances, with Jota on a mission, Keïta again imposing himself magnificently, inclusive of provoking Maddison into a yellow card when nutmegging him, Milner upsetting precious East Midland sensibilities, and Takumi Minamino putting in his best shift yet in a Liverpool shirt, provider of Liverpool’s second goal and the dispatcher of that glorious 95th-minute equaliser.
This was an evening that Minamino can hopefully push on from, something that would have been better facilitated had he been able to tuck away the decisive spot-kick.
There is a fine player locked within Minamino, but the problem is unlocking him on a more regular basis. You must be a strong character to thrive under Klopp, and that is the hardest part for him.
Over-exposed during regulation play at times, Caoimhin Kelleher stepped up to be the ultimate hero of the resultant penalty shootout, while it was left to Jota to put the top hat on proceedings, a man who seemed to channel the mood of the home crowd perfectly.
A nod also needs to be made to Bobby Firmino, who provided the comedy moment of the evening when prompting Kasper Schmeichel’s head to fall off over him dicking around with his spot-kick, despite the Leicester goalkeeper having been dicking around on his line himself.
A warm hug of a finale, I was also a big fan of Jota chanting along with “F**k the Tories”, just as I was of Neco Williams skidding past the Leicester supporters on his knees in celebration. Nobody delivers comeuppance quite like the Reds.
This one was all about marrying the theory of sacrificing a game of football of perceived lesser value to others on a crowded landscape of fixtures, with a desire not to let pantomime villains prosper on our watch. It was a game that can only have added spice to the Premier League encounter at the King Power next Tuesday.
And that’s now next up after Leeds United’s Boxing Day trip was postponed. Liverpool’s mantra has always been ‘one game at a time’, and for multiple reasons, it is an ethos that resonates as much today as it ever has.