Football: Lurching Liverpool eye berth in League Cup final

Liverpool's Adam Lallana (centre) celebrates scoring his late winning goal with teammates and manager Jurgen Klopp during the English Premier League football against Norwich City.
Liverpool's Adam Lallana (centre) celebrates scoring his late winning goal with teammates and manager Jurgen Klopp during the English Premier League football against Norwich City.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Zigzagging across the road like a clown car they may be, but Liverpool are also just 90 minutes from Wembley ahead of Tuesday's League Cup semi-final second leg against Stoke City.

A team that recorded seven 1-1 draws in nine games in September and October are beginning to gain a reputation for slapdash spectaculars, following the recent 3-3 draw at home to Arsenal and Saturday's remarkable 5-4 victory at Norwich City.

Jurgen Klopp's side have a 1-0 lead to protect at Anfield on Tuesday, but despite the slender nature of their advantage, he is not worried that their defensive problems will prove their undoing again.

"I have to find a solution of course, but it is not the biggest problem in a semi-final," the German told his eve-of-match press conference.

"We don't have to think about it because it is a semi-final and it will be go from the first whistle. We have to fight for every single ball, every single yard, and that is easy.

"I've heard about the special atmosphere at Anfield in semi-finals and I am really looking forward to it. Let's take the whole power of LFC and take it to the final."

A draw will suffice for Liverpool to reach a first major final since 2012, when they won the League Cup and lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, after Jordon Ibe's first-half goal settled the first leg on Jan 5.

With Everton leading Manchester City 2-1 in the other semi-final, there is the prospect of a first Merseyside derby in a major final since the deciding match of the 1988-89 FA Cup, which Liverpool won 3-2.

But Liverpool's fans cannot know which version of their team will show up - the slick, counter-punching side that won 3-1 at Chelsea, 4-1 at City and 6-1 at Southampton, or the meekly surrendering one beaten in recent weeks by West Ham United, Watford and Newcastle United.

With right-back Nathaniel Clyne doubtful after taking a knock to his knee at Carrow Road and centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel still sidelined, Klopp could be without three senior defenders.

Recent loan signing Steven Caulker is ineligible, but full-back Jon Flanagan is available and could make his first start since May 2014 after two knee operations.

Stoke went into the first leg on the back of impressive victories over Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton, but their form has tapered off somewhat since the turn of the year and they were beaten 3-0 at Leicester City on Saturday.

Injuries have also started to bite. Captain Ryan Shawcross will miss the trip to Anfield after suffering a back problem at Leicester and midfielder Geoff Cameron is unavailable due to an ankle injury.

But Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic, rested at the King Power Stadium, are due to reform their attacking trident alongside Xherdan Shaqiri, who made a successful return from a hamstring problem.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes is seeking to steer the club to their first League Cup final since they won the tournament in 1972 and he has urged his players to grasp the opportunity to make history.

"It has been 40-odd years, and we remind the players of that because this is an opportunity to make your mark in the game," said the Welshman. "We are going to give it everything. It is a chance for everybody involved here to achieve something that hasn't been achieved for many years."

Everton and Manchester City meet at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday with the visitors in pole position after goals from Ramiro Funes Mori and Romelu Lukaku secured a 2-1 first-leg win at Goodison Park.