Liverpool - Simon Mignolet produced a
decisive spot-kick save from Marc Muniesa as Liverpool edged Stoke City 6-5 on
penalties at Anfield on Tuesday to reach the League Cup final.
After Marko Arnautovic had cancelled out
Liverpool's 1-0 aggregate lead with a goal that seemed to have been scored from
an offside position, the game went to extra time and then penalties, and with
Mignolet thwarting Muniesa, it was left to Joe Allen to net the decisive spot-kick.
Following some slapdash recent displays, it
was a much-needed breakthrough for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, appointed in
October, whose side will face either Manchester City or Merseyside rivals
Everton in the final on February 28.
"Their goal was double offside, but in
the end, we had luck in the penalty shootout," Klopp told Sky Sports.
"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."
It will be Liverpool's first major final
since 2012, when they won the last of their eight League Cups and lost to
Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Mark Hughes's Stoke had eliminated holders
Chelsea in round four, but despite recording a first win inside 90 minutes at
Anfield since March 1959, they fell short in their bid to reach their first
League Cup final since they won the tournament in 1972.
"I'm really proud of what the players
produced," said Hughes. "I can't fault any of them. I thought we were
the dominant team, but we're not the ones going to Wembley,
It took until the first minute of extra
time for Liverpool to register a shot on target from open play, Stoke
goalkeeper Jack Butland saving a toe-poke from Roberto Firmino.
But Stoke substitute Marco van Ginkel twice
went closer, and each time from Peter Crouch flick-ons, first scuffing a shot
against the right-hand post and then testing Mignolet with a volley.
With Liverpool substitute Jordon Ibe
skewing a shot over late on, the game went to penalties and after each side had
squandered a spot-kick - Mignolet saving from Crouch, Emre Can hitting the
post - it went to sudden death.
Van Ginkel and Lucas Leiva scored, but
Belgium international Mignolet - maligned for some shaky recent performances
- plunged to his left to parry Muniesa's spot-kick and Allen stepped up to
settle the semi-final by planting the ball into the top-right corner.
Liverpool's fragility beneath the high ball
was demonstrated anew in Saturday's madcap 5-4 win at Norwich City and Hughes
sought to target their aerial vulnerability by awarding one-time Anfield native
Crouch only his fifth start of the season.
The gangly former England striker got his
head to plenty of balls, but it was from an approach more in keeping with
Stoke's football this season that the hosts procured their best first-half
Two opportunities fell to Jon Walters. From
Arnautovic's through-ball in the 14th minute the Irishman saw a shot deflected
over and when Erik Pieters's pass was allowed to bounce through to him eight
minutes later, he shot wide under pressure from the sliding Mamadou Sakho.
A tame first half was trundling towards its
conclusion when Stoke struck in stoppage time, Bojan Krkic crossing from the
right and Arnautovic stealing in behind Kolo Toure to side-foot home.
Liverpool's defenders appealed in vain to
the linesman, but television replays confirmed that the Austrian had been
The home fans' boos became roars early in
the second half as Liverpool looked to reassert their advantage, with Butland
diverting a drilled shot by Firmino onto the post.
The hosts' defensive weaknesses remained
apparent, however, and it took a last-ditch block from Sakho to thwart Walters
after Liverpool had failed to clear a free-kick from Pieters.
With a late Liverpool penalty appeal for
handball against Pieters dismissed by referee Jon Moss, the game went to extra