Liverpool have booked their place in the final of the League Cup courtesy of a 6-5 penalty shootout victory over Stoke City at Anfield this evening.
The hosts went into the match with a 1-0 aggregate lead, but Stoke won by the same scoreline over 120 minutes to force a shootout, which Jurgen Klopp’s side edged after seven penalties each.
Clear chances were at a premium in the first half, with both teams being largely limited to long-range efforts throughout the opening 45 minutes.
Stoke did create the better of the openings, however, with the first falling to Jonathan Walters midway through the half when he raced on to a through-ball only to put his effort wide under pressure from Mamadou Sakho.
The closest Liverpool came in the first half was through Emre Can’s 25-yard strike that flew a couple of yards wide as they failed to test Jack Butland in the Stoke goal at all.
Indeed, there was only one shot on target throughout the first period, and that resulted in the opening goal right on the brink of half time as Marko Arnautovic stroked a low cross from Bojan Krkic past Simon Mignolet, although replays showed that the goalscorer was in an offside position.
Liverpool began the second half brightly and almost regained the aggregate lead in the opening minutes when Jordan Henderson found Roberto Firmino, whose low strike hit the outside of the post.
James Milner had a penalty shout turned down moments later, but the tide soon turned back in Stoke’s favour and Liverpool needed some important contributions from both Mignolet and Sakho to deny Walters from doubling their lead on the night.
Sakho had a half-chance of his own at the other end with a little over 20 minutes left, but he couldn’t connect properly with his header at the back post.
It was another defender who threatened next for the Reds as Alberto Moreno’s cross found Jon Flanagan at the back post, but the full-back could not get the ball under control from close range on his first start for Liverpool since May 2014.
Neither side could find another goal as the match went into extra time, however, and it wasn’t until the opening minute of the added 30 that Liverpool finally registered their first shot on target when Firmino poked the ball towards the bottom corner, forcing Butland into the save.
Stoke came closest to getting a goal in the first half of extra time, however, as Marco van Ginkel burst into the box, taking the ball down on his chest and getting a shot away that bobbled against the outside of the post. More chances arrived in the second half, with Sakho denying Crouch and Mignolet collecting a Van Ginkel effort before Jordon Ibe went up the other end and blazed his shot well over the crossbar.
The match went all the way to penalties, however, and it was Liverpool who emerged victorious from the shootout courtesy of Joe Allen’s winning spot kick after Mignolet had denied Marc Muniesa on the seventh round of kicks.
Peter Crouch and Can had both previously missed to keep the scores level going into sudden death, but Liverpool held their nerve to book their place in a record 12th League Cup final, while Stoke’s 44-year wait for a place in the showpiece event continues.
The Reds will face either Manchester City or Merseyside rivals Everton in the final at Wembley on February 28.