Jordan Ibe fires Liverpool to slender League Cup semi-final lead at Stoke
Substitute’s first-half strike gives Reds the advantage in the first leg at Stoke
Substitute Jordon Ibe’s first-half strike gave Liverpool the advantage in their League Cup semi-final, first leg at Stoke on Tuesday.
Ibe drilled a shot past Jack Butland to give Juergen Klopp’s side a 1-0 victory on a night when their injury jinx struck again.
Playmaker Philippe Coutinho and central defender Dejan Lovren both limped off in the first 35 minutes with what appeared to be hamstring injuries.
Coutinho was injured while attempting to deliver a cross, while Lovren was hurt while sliding into a challenge on Xherdan Shaqiri.
It remains to be seen how long they will be out for, but both players look set to be added to a long casualty list that includes captain Jordan Henderson, strikers Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi, and centre back Martin Skrtel.
Despite yet more injury setbacks, Klopp will have been pleased with the resilience his side showed after their disappointing display in losing 2-0 at West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday.
The German said: “It is a little bit of a strange feeling because on the one side we have won this game and played well. The fight was great.
“I was really angry last week, but now I’m proud because we have reacted so well in such a difficult game in all parts.”
Klopp’s response to that defeat was to drop his only available out-and-out striker Christian Benteke, and go with a false nine, giving Roberto Firmino the task of unsettling the home back line.
Liverpool’s defence had been unsettled by an injury to Mamadou Sakho, with Kolo Toure coming in alongside Lovren for only his sixth start of the season.
Yet Klopp’s side had more of the play in the early stages as they attempted to impose themselves, managing a couple of long-range efforts from Firmino and Adam Lallana, with Butland fumbling and then gathering the first, then beating away the second.
Liverpool also caused a couple of nervous moments from Alberto Moreno corners, albeit without managing to trouble Butland further.
After coming on for Coutinho, Ibe wafted an ambitious shot over the bar from 25 yards, before shooting straight at Butland when Lallana’s cross found him unattended in the penalty area.
Stoke were gaining traction, though, and should have gone in front themselves when Bojan Krkic found himself free 12 yards out following Shaqiri’s clever low corner, only to produce an air shot.
Then Liverpool suffered a further injury setback as Lovren appeared to pull a hamstring when sliding in to challenge Shaqiri, forcing Klopp to move Lucas Leiva to centre back and bring on James Milner, only just fit again after four matches out with a calf strain.
Despite their injury problems, though, Liverpool were soon in front, as Lallana broke down the right on to a through pass, and delivered a cross that Joe Allen helped on for Ibe to blast beyond Butland.
The lead could have been extended within moments, as Firmino was denied by a Ryan Shawcross challenge as he sprinted towards goal, and Ibe bent a shot just wide, although Marko Arnautovic glanced weakly wide with a clear header at the other end after being found by Glen Johnson’s cross.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes’s decision to bring on Jonathan Walters at half-time made for a tough second 45 minutes for Klopp’s side. There were hairy moments, not least when Moreno appeared to catch Glenn Whelan as they challenged for a loose ball as a free-kick was cleared.
But Liverpool might have built up a greater advantage to take back to Anfield for the second leg in three weeks’ time, as Allen had a penalty appeal rejected after receiving a shove from Whelan, while Firmino almost scored one of the most bizarre goals of the season, as Butland’s clearance hit the Brazil international and looped back towards the net, with the Stoke keeper reacting just in time to catch.
Liverpool, though, saw out the victory, and will now be confident of reaching Wembley.