In the grand scheme of things, it’s half-time in the Capital One Cup semi-final. A depleted Liverpool side will now take a 1-0 lead to Anfield for the second leg in a fortnight, after a battling display against December’s form side, Stoke City.
On the whole it wasn’t a pretty performance. The Reds started off brightly and had Stoke chasing shadows for the opening fifteen minutes, but injuries to Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren meant a reshuffle was required and with that the away side changed their style. But their momentum didn’t die; Klopp just managed the game and his players a little smarter.
Liverpool fans can take plenty of positives from this win. The Brittania is no easy place to travel, and yet Klopp and his team went there with plans. Plural. There was a clear plan before the injuries and there was one after it. Stoke didn’t have an answer for either and rarely troubled the makeshift defence.
Watertight defence. This wasn’t just the back four and the goalkeeper. This was a solid defensive performance from the entire team. From the first minute it was clear that Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino had been instructed to stop Stoke building from the back. Klopp forced Stoke to go long and they are not to be feared when playing that way anymore. Kolo Toure is solid in the air and Lucas is deceptively good for his height, hence having them up against Bojan was always going to be very one-sided and meant Stoke couldn’t attack with numbers.
Kolo Toure. Lucas was awarded the man of the match award after an impressive performance in an unfamiliar centre-back role, but much credit should go to the man beside him, Kolo Toure. Everybody’s favourite, pretend car salesman once again put in a 7/10 performance. Kolo is viewed as a risk by many due to his high profile mistakes but in an odd twist of irony it’s his inclusion that seems to bring a calmness to the Liverpool defence. It will be a sad day in July when the number four shirt is once again vacant.
Emre Can is boss. The Liverpool number 23 once again bossed the midfield. It’s easy to forget he’s still only 21 as he carries on to produce mature performances week after week. His work often goes under the radar and because he’s not scoring 30 yard screamers, the casual observer can often be seen on social media asking “what it is Emre Can does?” Many seem convinced he is not a defensive midfielder in the long term but right now he is the one bringing balance to the midfield from a deeper role. Joe Allen was drowning in compliments after his performance in the win, but without Emre Can there wouldn’t have been an Allen master class tonight. He patrolled the midfield and it allowed Allen to influence proceedings higher up the pitch. His no-look assist (which he clearly meant) topped off a fine performance for the Welshman. Lots of change in the Liverpool midfield lately due to injuries and Emre Can has been the one constant.
A rotisserie of pressing. Liverpool lined up with a fluid trio in the attacking third. The two Brazilians and Adam Lallana. It’s been the trio that has been most effective for Liverpool this season, or at least the trio that have started the big wins against Chelsea and Manchester City. Their energy and work rate were vital to Liverpool disrupting the Stoke City style. They never gave the Stoke defence a moments rest as all three kept interchanging their position and all took turns as the ‘false 9’. Coutinho would press Shawcross and carry on his press if the ball went to a full-back. The space he had vacated was then occupied by Lallana who in turn would press the centre-back with the ball. Up next, was Firmino and so on. It was like Klopp put our attacking three on a skewer and slowly turned it. It’s not a sustainable tactic for the entire 90 minutes but it unsettled them enough to give Liverpool the advantage early on and start bossing play.