Liverpool hang on to edge past Tottenham
Liverpool 2 Tottenham 1
Daniel Sturridge ended his two-month Liverpool goal drought to send Jurgen Klopp's team into the League Cup quarter-finals at the expense of a Tottenham team that left their fightback far too late at Anfield.
Sturridge, without a club goal since scoring twice against Burton Albion in the second round in August, could and should have walked off the pitch with a hat-trick after an impressive performance for last season's beaten finalists.
While his double was enough to carry Klopp's team into the next round, Tottenham's late surge almost made Liverpool pay for their catalogue of missed of chances.
Balancing priorities is always a challenge for those clubs pursuing silverware at the top end of the Premier League, and the League Cup is often the competition at the back of the queue when managers assess the physical demands of a congested fixture list.
But despite not having to worry about European football this season, Klopp (above) chose to make 11 changes from the team which defeated West Bromwich Albion last Saturday.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino made only 10 changes - Eric Dier was the only player not rested - so one of the outstanding ties of the fourth round was reduced to little more than a reserve game before a ball had even been kicked.
Anfield was full, regardless, and the game at least gave opportunities to a raft of youngsters to make their mark. Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Liverpool teenager highlighted by Steven Gerrard as a star of the future, began at right-back, with Pochettino handing starts to Harry Winks, Josh Onomah and Cameron Carter-Vickers, all of whom impressed.
But beyond Sturridge's ninth-minute opener, when the England forward scored from close range after Marko Grujic had pounced on a slip by Spurs defender Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, the first-half was a frustrating one.
Sturridge should have added to his goal tally within nine minutes of his opener, but instead scuffed a right-foot shot into the arms of goalkeeper Michel Vorm from 10 yards.
At the other end, the hapless Vincent Janssen continued his miserable form since arriving for £17m from AZ Alkmaar in the summer.
Janssen has scored just once in a Spurs shirt - against Colchester in the last round - and he appeared bereft of confidence on this occasion, failing to take opportunities and giving a decent impression of Roberto Soldado whenever he was in sight of goal.
Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, was fortunate to stay on the pitch after earning just a yellow card for a wild challenge on Ben Davies in front of referee Jon Moss.
Liverpool began the second half strongly, with Klopp's team creating a flurry of chances through Sturridge, Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Inside the opening 15 minutes of the second period, Liverpool carved out five clear goalscoring opportunities, but could not convert any of them.
Sturridge was the first to fall short when he allowed Origi's cross to get caught beneath his feet as he stood six yards from goal. Wijnaldum then had a close-range effort blocked before Vorm raced off his line to deny Sturridge.
Wijnaldum was teed up by Sturridge following a penetrating run by the forward, only for the Dutch midfielder to scuff his shot goalwards.
A goal appeared inevitable, but Vorm then produced the save of the game on 59 minutes when he tipped Origi's 25-yard shot over the bar and into the Kop.
Pochettino had now seen enough of his team being overrun and he threw on Erik Lamela on the hour mark in a bid to test Liverpool's defensive resolve.
But the move backfired as, within three minutes, Sturridge raced onto Wijnaldum's through-ball before calmly scoring past Vorm.
At 2-0, the game was now in the bag for Liverpool. Or so it seemed.
Lucas Leiva's clumsy foul on Lamela on 76 minutes gifted Spurs the penalty from which they halved the deficit, with Janssen scoring from the spot.
From that point on, the two teams traded blows, desperate to score the goal which would either win the game or send it into extra-time.
Sturridge struck the crossbar and both Wijnaldum and Danny Ings forced stunning saves from Vorm.
At the other end, Lamela was denied another penalty when he appeared to be pulled down by Alberto Moreno, before Onomah's poor control cost him the opportunity to convert Lamela's cross-field pass from six yards.
Liverpool, having had the game won, ended the game by hanging on - but hang on they did, and Klopp's team did enough to secure their place in the next round. Just. (© Independent News Service)