Liverpool took one step closer to winning their record ninth League Cup after defeating Premier League rivals Stoke City in a penalty shoot-out on Tuesday night.
Heading into the Capital One Cup semi-final second-leg with a slender one-goal advantage; the Potters’ Marko Arnautovic netted the only goal of the game in first-half injury-time at Anfield to force this enthralling tie into extra time.
But after a further goalless 30 minutes of play; it was Mark Hughes’ visitors who suffered heartbreak when it came down to spot-kicks, with the hosts prevailing 6-5 victors from the shoot-out to ensure new Reds boss Jurgen Klopp will lead his side out at Wembley Stadium in his first season in charge of the club.
A tight affair for the entire 90 minutes was controversially separated by Austria international Arnautovic’s eventual winner on the stroke of half-time, with the 26-year-old winger seemingly slotting the ball past Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in an offside position after latching onto Bojan’s low cross.
But the Belgium shot-stopper, who recently signed a new five-year deal with the Reds earlier this month, had the final laugh as he proved to be spot-kick saviour by brilliantly saving from former Reds striker Peter Crouch and defender Marc Muniesa, allowing substitute Joe Allen to step forward and fire Liverpool towards their second League Cup final in four years.
Beforehand; Stoke’s Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan, Ibrahim Affelay, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marco van Ginkel were all on target for the away side, before Adam Lallana, Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino, James Milner and Lucas were also successful for Liverpool to take the shoot-out into sudden death.
Despite being unable to watch Allen’s decisive spot-kick; instead hiding nervously behind a wall of his players, German boss Klopp will lead his Liverpool team out at Wembley on February 28 against either Manchester City or fierce Merseyside rivals Everton in the final.
“It was great, the atmosphere was special. It was a good game for my side against a difficult side to play,” he said.
“Their goal was double offside but, in the end, we had luck in the penalty shootout. Over the whole 120 minutes, the players, crowd and Liverpool deserved it.
“Wembley is a cool place to play football… but we go there to win. It’s not much fun to lose.”
Klopp; who took over the Anfield reign from Brendan Rodgers back in October 2015, now has the chance to secure Liverpool’s first piece of silverware since lifting the League Cup for an eighth time back in 2012, when Reds legend Kenny Dalglish guided his side to a 3-2 penalty shoot-out triumph (2-2 a.e.t.) against Cardiff City.
Meanwhile Stoke, whose first and last major trophy came in their League Cup final victory over Chelsea back in 1972, were devastated after arguably edging out the Reds inside Anfield on the night.
Potters manager Hughes added, “I thought we were by far the better team. We were behind in the tie and I’m proud of what the players produced.
“Nobody gave us a chance – why they would do that I don’t know. We’ve proved for a couple of years that we’re a good team. I think Liverpool were delighted to go to penalties and then it’s a lottery.
“We got a win on paper – goodness knows how long it’s been since we won here – but the objective was to get to a Wembley final which we didn’t.”
Liverpool’s opponents will be determined tonight (19:45) during the second Capital One Cup semi-final second-leg between Manchester City (1) and Everton (2) at the Etihad Stadium.