Injury toll rises for Klopp as Ibe gives Reds edge
Stoke City 0 Liverpool 1
The dream of Wembley is alive for Jurgen Klopp, although this first step towards a place in the League Cup final came at a price for his patched up, injury-wracked Liverpool squad from which he lost two more players in the course of victory over Stoke City.
By the time the second leg comes around on January 26, Klopp will hope that some of his injured players are back available again, with the number of those unavailable currently approaching double figures. Substitute Jordon Ibe scored the tie's only goal, having come on for the injured Philippe Coutinho who was soon followed off before half-time by centre-back Dejan Lovren.
It is a long list of players who will not feature in the FA Cup third round this weekend when Klopp's team play League Two side Exeter City.
Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Joe Gomez, Divock Origi, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho were already injured before the game at the Britannia and there are two more now, but they came through well against Stoke with a victory that might have been by a greater margin.
After last Saturday's league defeat to West Ham it was a different, more resolute kind of Liverpool.
There was an impromptu turn at centre-back for Lucas Leiva and a fine performance from Joe Allen in midfield. This was not the kind of Liverpool team that Klopp expected to be selecting for a semi-final but it was the kind of performance that he would have hoped for.
It took Liverpool one long period of domination and two unfortunate injuries but they were damned if they were going to let so much effort go to waste without a first-half goal.
Klopp's team deserved their lead from a relentlessly attacking first half that gave Stoke nowhere to go but defend.
The Liverpool manager had made the brave decision to start without the recently underwhelming Christian Benteke, consigned to the bench in favour of an attack with no specialist centre-forward. Stoke are different these days but it is still a courageous manager who turns up with an attacking four comprising three fireflies - Adam Lallana, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino - plus Emre Can as a No 10.
It was not as if he was alone in his improvising because at the other end, Mark Hughes deployed Bojan Krkic as his centre-forward with the three behind him that gilded array of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Marko Arnautovic.
Between them they had a dreadful first half with one Bojan miscue exactly the kind of technique failure Stoke thought they had long left behind.
Meanwhile at the other end, Liverpool pushed on undeterred by two bad injuries, the first of which meant they lost Coutinho. He seemed to pull a muscle and was off quickly, to be replaced by Ibe with just 18 minutes played.
Coutinho and Firmino had looked on the same wavelength and it was a blow for Liverpool. On 34 minutes, Lovren seemed to strain something reaching for the ball and broke down chasing another minutes later.
Klopp had already lost Mamadou Sakho to injury before the game. As a consequence, he did not have another central defender on the bench and called on James Milner to replace Lovren while moving Lucas Leiva back into defence.
The goal came three minutes later, starting with a tackle won by Milner on the right who played in Lallana down the wing. He cut the ball back for Allen, starting just his ninth game of the season. The Welsh midfielder looked like he was trying to shoot but succeeded in moving the ball on perfectly for Ibe at the back post who took one touch and picked his spot past Jack Butland.
If anything there should have been more goals for Liverpool. Minutes later, Firmino pinched the ball from Glenn Whelan and only a heavy touch allowed Ryan Shawcross to intervene.
The Stoke captain was his team's best player in the first half with another crucial intervention on Coutinho earlier.
On the touchline, steadfastly refusing any Stoke official bench coats to protect his suit from a soaking from the January rain, Hughes looked ever more incensed with his team's performance. For all that they had a good chance in injury-time at the end of the half when a clearance fell to Glen Johnson and he forced a good save out of Simon Mignolet.
Hughes changed his attack as well as his attitude towards the winter rain at half-time. He emerged with a coat on and a more orthodox centre-forward in Jonathan Walters.
Stoke at last turned the heat up on their visitors but it never reached sizzling. In the heart of the Liverpool defence, Lucas was reinventing himself with an excellent clearing header as the big men in the stripes converged on the ball. Later he tackled Bojan with such pace that it appeared that Liverpool's Brazilian had managed to burst the match ball, which was immediately retired from action.
Stoke's problem was that their new 4-3-3 formation was not creating a significant number of chances. Arnautovic was quiet although he picked out Shaqiri with one excellent straight through-ball that the little winger could not control.
Otherwise, Liverpool looked comfortable with Toure impressing. When Allen finally departed with 11 minutes remaining he was given well-deserved applause by the away following and was replaced by Benteke.
Hughes had already brought on Joselu in place of Bojan by then - it had just not been a night for the latter to shine.
By the end, Hughes had sent on Peter Crouch for the first time in a long time as Stoke sought out a goal to take to Anfield. He managed to set up Walters for a half-chance late on but the striker miscued. It summed up Stoke's night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)