Liverpool have beaten Stoke City 1-0 in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at the Britannia Stadium, courtesy of a first-half goal from Jordon Ibe.
An angry Jurgen Klopp demanded his players give more after a lacklustre 2-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday and they duly obliged by putting their bodies on the line – at considerable expense.
Stoke will have been confident going into the game with their wonderful form in stark contrast to the current poor run of results Klopp’s side have endured.
The Reds lost playmaker Philippe Coutinho and defender Dejan Lovren to hamstring injuries inside 35 minutes and their only fit centre-back – Mamadou Sakho missed the game with a minor knee problem. Klopp’s injury woes continued as Kolo Toure gingerly limped off at full-time holding the back of his thigh.
The only upside of those injuries was the early introduction of Ibe, who injected pace down the left and ultimately provided the only goal.
Liverpool’s current tally of 22 goals in 20 league matches is the lowest in their history and their starting line-up, with Christian Benteke dropped, had just nine to their credit this season – Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic started with seven to himself.
Klopp’s call for a response after a woeful weekend display was heeded from the off with Roberto Firmino, playing as a nominal number nine instead of Benteke, testing Jack Butland after just 36 seconds.
It was virtually one-way traffic in the opening half-hour as Stoke’s footballing front four of Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Arnautovic hardly got a kick and even when they did Bojan completely fluffed his shot when the unmarked Shaqiri cut a low corner back to him.
By then Liverpool had already lost Coutinho to a hamstring injury and when Lovren went off as well it meant the Reds had six players either with, or recovering from, a similar problem – in addition to Jordan Henderson (heel), Danny Ings, Joe Gomez (both long-term knee ligaments) and Sakho on the sidelines.
But just as they appeared to be losing their momentum, Ibe struck at the opportune moment.
Joe Allen appeared to have mis-hit a shot from Adam Lallana’s 37th-minute cross but on second inspection the Wales midfielder had opened up his body shape to divert the ball on to Ibe who fired home at the far post.
Arnautovic headed wide before Simon Mignolet saved from former team-mate Glen Johnson at a corner and the half-time introduction of forward Jon Walters for midfielder Geoff Cameron gave Liverpool’s makeshift central defensive pair of Toure and midfielder Lucas Leiva much more to think about.
Alberto Moreno’s tackle on Glenn Whelan could have resulted in a penalty – as could the Stoke midfielder’s challenge on Allen at the other end.
Firmino almost inadvertently made the match safe when Butland’s blasted clearance rebounded into the goalkeeper’s hands and fortunately not over his head.
Stoke’s greatest threat came from substitute Joselu’s deflected shot which Mignolet tipped over.
Walters then dragged a shot wide with the last kick of the match but Stoke are far from out of the tie as they head to Anfield knowing that is where Liverpool are often more vulnerable.
The Potters need a win in the second leg if they are to progress to the final at Wembley Stadium.