Capital One Cup: Ibe gives Reds edge over Stoke for Anfield return
Holly Thackeray | January 5, 2016
Stoke City 0-1 Liverpool
- Substitute Jordan Ibe struck in the 37th minute to put the Reds ahead
- Injuries to Philippe Coutinho, Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure a concern for Jurgen Klopp
- Liverpool now take lead back to Anfield for semi-final second leg
Advantage Klopp in Capital One Cup
Liverpool drew first blood in their first leg semi-final Capital One Cup contest with Stoke City, thanks to a cool strike from academy product Jordan Ibe, and will take a hard-fought 1-0 lead back to Anfield.
In what could prove a costly game for the Reds in the long-term after injury concerns to Philippe Coutinho, Kolo Toure and Dejan Lovren, the Potters were no pushovers and have set up a thrilling second meeting in Merseyside, with much left to be decided.
Britannia boys backed into a corner
The Potters were pegged back in the opening stages, as a confident Liverpool probed and pressed. Jurgen Klopp had demanded more “aggression” from his men, but they also brought artistry as Emre Can, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino combined and conducted, and Adam Lallana drew an early save from Jack Butland after finding himself free to thump in a punt from distance.
After just under a quarter of an hour crafty Coutinho, a goal hero against Stoke already this season, tested the hosts’ under-the-cosh defence, but found his jinking dance met a brick wall in the form of skipper Ryan Shawcross.
Mark Hughes’ side looked less the sleek and slinky outfit of late, and more the robust Britannia Stadium boys of old, with balls lumped out from the backline but now no focal point to provide hold-up play.
The Reds’ rhythm was temporarily disrupted, however, as Klopp hauled Coutinho off early with injury concerns, replacing the playmaker with young English talent Ibe.
A corner was the result when the Potters finally got a little of their passing game going, and a training ground-esque set piece caught Liverpool, who were expecting a high ball, on the hop. Though unmarked silky Spaniard Bojan Krkic scuffed his strike, with ex-Red Glen Johnson skying his off-the-cuff follow-up.
While, back in Stoke’s box, Ibe similarly made a hash of a golden chance, lamely lashing a shot into the arms of Jack Butland. There was also further injury woe for Klopp and co, as Croatian defender Lovren came a cropper after over-stretching, causing James Milner to be brought off the bench and Lucas Leiva to slot in as a centre half.
Ibe incisiveness forces opener
Though, those twists of fate had a hand in Liverpool’s opening goal in the 37th minute, as Milner unleashed Lallana down the right flank. The former Southampton skipper slid the ball across Stoke’s exposed area and, though Joe Allen appeared to miscue, Ibe made no mistake as he coolly dispatched low and into the right hand corner.
Marko Arnautovic had the chance to level seconds later, but surprised even himself by failing to direct his header after Johnson’s deliciously dipping delivery.
It was end-to-end stuff, as Firmino then picked sloppy Glenn Whelan’s pocket but fluffed his footing to allow Shawcross to spoil the move, with Ibe failing to convert a simple shot just seconds later.
An instinctive save from much-maligned stopper Simon Mignolet, seemingly unable to see Johnson’s toe poke until late due to a gaggle of bodies in the box, was the last meaningful action of the half. As a rain-drenched Klopp trotted off to the changing rooms, the German would certainly have been ruing his side’s slew of missed opportunities.
Stoke substitution changes pace
After the break, Liverpool were let off the hook as a rebound fell to the feet of defender Shawcross, who could not get his shooting boots on quick enough, allowing Milner to block.
Stoke looked much stronger with the addition of tricky customer Jonathan Walters, giving the guests a bigger physical presence to deal with at the back, with the Reds rearguard finally put under consistent pressure. A beautiful ball from Arnautovic sliced the visitors open, but Mignolet managed to scramble possession before onrushing Xherdan Shaqiri could collect.
In response, Brazilian plotter Firmino, whose decision making in the final third still has question marks, flashed a fizzing shot over the crossbar to give the Potters a reprieve, later whacking another attempt well wide of Butland’s right hand goal post.
A much nervier game began to unfold, with a winner for the Reds or equaliser for Stoke looking equally likely, as Liverpool had a penalty claim waved away for a clumsy Whelan challenge, before energetic Arnautovic again raced to menace Mignolet.
Late Potters push
Having battened down the hatches, the Merseysiders eventually again emerged from their shell to attack as the clock on this feisty, and at times frantic first-leg fray, ticked down, but Stoke were far from ready to surrender.
Christian Benteke was eventually thrown on by Klopp, with former Reds frontman Peter Crouch also invited to join the action, as both bosses tried for a game-changing goal.
If Klopp was concerned by Liverpool’s defending of late, he could not complain as his defence continued to repel those last Potters pushes though, in another blow, Kolo Toure was left clutching what looked to be his hamstring.
If this clash was anything to go by, fans should be in for a cracker in the return to Anfield, where this contest could well go to the wire. Liverpool (6/4 with Coral to capture the Capital One Cup) could pay the price for the possibility of reaching Wembley, however, and will await news on those injuries to key players with bated breath.
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