Liverpool downed Stoke in the first leg of the League Cup tonight thanks to a first-half winner from Jordon Ibe.
The youngster came off the bench for crocked Coutinho, who was one of three Liverpool injuries, and slammed in from close-range with his left to make us strong favourites to qualify for the final.
Jurgen Klopp made three changes from the West Ham debacle, bringing in Kolo Toure, Joe Allen, Adam Lallana for the injured Mamadou Sakho, Ibe and Christian Benteke.
The manager decided to return to the ‘LFC’ front-three which played so excellently against Manchester City and Chelsea, but which failed to replicate those performances versus Watford most recently. Still, following Benteke’s outing at Upton Park, it was no surprise to see the Belgian benched.
Stoke were unchanged for the third time in a row on the other hand, with a formidable attacking midfield triumvirate of Arnautovic, Affelay and Shaqiri behind Bojan.
Liverpool came out of the blocks firing, clearly reacting to Klopp’s ‘angry’ comments after the Upton Park humbling. Firmino and Lallana fizzed early drives after our pressing game rattled the hosts – who were keen to play out from the back. Our two Brazilians Coutinho and Firmino were linking up well, and the much criticised Allen was breaking up play excellently and distributing the ball too – playing one exquisite through-ball of note to our no.10.
But then with Liverpool in full flow, Coutinho pulled up with an injury and was replaced by Jordon Ibe. Just as the Reds were putting their recent form behind them our best player had to leave the field. The look on Coutinho’s face suggests it’s a bad one, heartbreakingly.
To rub salt in the wound, Dejan Lovren then picked up a hamstring injury of his own, meaning Klopp was forced to pair Lucas with Toure at the back and bring James Milner on in midfield. All we can do now is wait for news on the seriousness of the injuries, which seems like the story of our season.
Lovren injury… pic.twitter.com/FV2B8TaFSy
— Jordan Chamberlain (@Jordan_AC90) January 5, 2016
But Ibe put Liverpool ahead and it was completely deserved. Lallana broke down the right, before feeding Allen on goal. The midfielder delicately passed to the wonderkid winger who slammed past the impressive Jack Butland.
Stoke switched things up at the start of the second, bringing on Jonathan Walters and deploying a much more direct brand of football. We enjoyed biting at Stoke when they played short and pretty in the first-half, but the second was a thoroughly more gritty affair.
The Potters got the ball forward plenty and we relied on blocks and tackles from Milner, Toure and Lucas to keep our lead. Arnautovic was getting more into the game and the Austrian was inches away from feeding Shaqiri through on goal with a genius through-ball.
Mark Hughes’ men continued to press and Simon Mignolet, who looked very shaky when the hosts whipped corners into the box, was booked for time-wasting.
Christian Benteke came on late to help us hold the ball up for Allen – who was potentially Liverpool’s Man of the Match. The diminutive midfielder should’ve had a penalty as well for a foul in their area.
Jaw-droppingly, Toure, who’d been wonderful defensively – then pulled his hamstring in injury-time, and the issue enabled Jonathan Walters a chance to equalise right at the death.
That would have been far too cruel for Liverpool, who deserved our win tonight. But at what cost…?