Friday 15 December 2017

Liverpool's comic defending gives Stoke hope of last laugh in semi-final

Jurgen Klopp is keen for Liverpool to tighten up their defence
Jurgen Klopp is keen for Liverpool to tighten up their defence

Steve Tongue

Stoke City were involved in one of the most thrilling cup ties in history when they beat West Ham United over four games in a League Cup semi-final in 1972.

Following Liverpool’s astonishing 5-4 win at Norwich, Mark Hughes’ men must be wondering what will be in store for them when they visit Anfield tomorrow night for the second leg of their Capital One Cup tie that will decide who goes to Wembley on 28 February.

As in 1972, Stoke trail by a goal from the home leg but history – and Liverpool’s defending – gives them a counter-puncher’s chance; that and the hope that amid a draining programme Jürgen Klopp will select something closer to his FA Cup team than Saturday’s Premier League XI.

The German offered no clues on that score before leaving Carrow Road, the only score obsessing the German being the first 5-4 of his career.

Addressing the media without his trademark glasses, broken amid the mayhem that followed Adam Lallana’s 95th-minute winner, he seemed unsure whether to laugh or cry, initially suggesting of the best way to reach Wembley: “We can again score five, and they get four!

“It’s not something I like to make jokes about, our defence. I was an under-average player, but if I was good at something it was defending set plays. It’s not that difficult. Now everybody’s talking about it [so] we’re thinking about it.”

Stoke certainly will be, even if they are less dependent these days on aerial power. Of course, Liverpool still won on Saturday, leaving Klopp’s stein more than half-full – just. Like Manchester United, who beat them at Anfield eight days ago, they have been accused of lacking not so much a cutting edge as any edge at all.

The way Roberto Firmino took two of his chances against Norwich, however, suggested that he can compensate for Daniel Sturridge’s continued absence and Christian Benteke’s loss of form. With four goals in three Premier League games, the Brazilian looks less like a false nine than a rather threatening one. “Now we made five [goals], three against Arsenal, three against Exeter, that’s 11 in one and a half weeks,” Klopp pointed out. “So we are back in the race. After Manchester United, everyone said Firmino is not really a target striker. He can play and score goals and he is for us a good option to play with.”

Which of the strikers starts tomorrow will give an indication of the German’s priorities while Liverpool remain in four competitions. “It’s a long way for us, we cannot see where it will end,” he said, adding with that endearing comic timing: “Especially without glasses."

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