There’s no worse way to lose than on penalties… Particularly not in a semi-final after you have won on the night 1-0.
Stoke went to Anfield with a tough task on Wednesday following a 1-0 defeat on home turf in the first leg, but performed fantastically and were in control throughout the 120 minutes.
The defeat at the Brit at the beginning of the month proved to be the downfall, and even a draw in early January would have seen The Potters reach the League Cup final for the first time since 1972.
Despite ultimately exiting the competition, we learned a lot about the Stoke side just from that one game.
Here’s four things we learned from a heartbreaking night at Anfield:
1. Mark Hughes sides don’t give up without a fight
There’s no doubt whoever Stoke drew in the semis, it was going to be a tough game with all sides probably judged to be superior than the Potters, and the home leg was always going to be crucial in attempting to secure a Wembley place.
Despite the disappointment at the Brit, I think few will argue that Stoke were dominated the majority of the two hours of play on Tuesday night. The stats show that Mark Hughes’ men limited LIverpool to two shots on target, without Jack Butland having to make a notable save all evening. That performance can give the club confidence for the rest of the season.
2. Potters are capable of competing with the best
This season has probably been Stoke’s memorable in terms of results. Home wins have already been secured against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United this season without conceding a goal, and Tuesday proved that they can mix it with sides who spent hundreds of millions of pounds on players earning double the wages of Stoke’s top earner. Hughes has always been good at picking a gem or two up, and a number of his bargains were crucial in securing the win on the night.
3. Stoke can cope without Shawcross
Ryan Shawcross has been Stoke’s rock since joining from Manchester United nearly ten years ago. He missed the start of the season after back surgery and when he returned, the Potters went on a run of nearly 500 minutes of not conceding a goal whilst he was on the pitch, and a recurrence of his back injury against Leicester on Saturday ruled him out on Tuesday night.
Philipp Wollschied was sensational and Marc Muniesa, who has had a lack of game time this season, stepped up to the mark to help Stoke to a clean sheet at Anfield after over two hours of football. I’d like to know how many teams have done that in the past.
4. Plan B is available if needed
Since becoming boss back in 2012, Hughes has done a great job in adjusting the style of play and gaining Stoke more credit amongst media and opposition fans, but Tuesday night proved he can be flexible and adapt his team suitable to the type of opponent.
Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses have been there for most to see for a while, not least in the FA Cup tie at Exeter and the four they conceded at Norwich last weekend. Hughes noticed this and decided to play some height up top in Peter Crouch, with other ball-winners such as Jon Walters around him. You have to say it worked well on the night and contributed massively to Stoke eventually winning the game… But unfortunately not the tie.
Despite the overall result meaning an exit from the competition, all 4,600 travelling Stoke fans left Anfield immensely proud of what they had seen, with the only negative of the evening being losing the tie on penalties, which really is pot luck. It has no reflection on the game or who has performed best.
It’s on and up from here, and that performance sets us up nicely for the FA Cup tie at Palace on Saturday before continuing the Premier League campaign at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.