|Image via sepakbola.com|
The advantage going into the second leg of the semi final at Anfield will be invaluable for the Reds who may still be suffering injury wise come the end of January. Jurgen Klopp opted to start without a recognised striker for this fixture and also missing from the XI was Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho.
The game started brightly for the Reds as the trio of Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho put their magic on show. Some wonderful moves and link up play from the threesome left Stoke quickly on the back foot and I must admit I was surprised to see Liverpool start so confidently.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of Coutinho as he had to leave the field after just 17 minutes due to what is presumed to be a hamstring injury. His replacement Jordon Ibe to be fair slotted neatly into the set up and of course went on to score the only goal of the game. The goal however would have to wait because Jurgen Klopp at 33 minutes had to watch on in disbelief as Dejan Lovren clinched his hamstring despite initial attempts to continue to play. The Reds already have two injuries in defence and when Lovren left the field he was replaced with James Milner meaning Lucas Leiva had to act as a centre back for the rest of the game.
Just a couple of minutes later, Jordon Ibe bagged his goal. I said in the preview that I felt like he was due one but I didn't even follow my own advice, could have been £11 up! Haha. His goal was a simple finish from inside the six yard box, assisted by Joe Allen who I must say was pretty effective also.
The second half saw Stoke introduce Jonathan Walters and it was definitely the Potters who seemed to take hold of the game this time out. Efforts from Shawcross and Glen Johnson in particular stood out but the home side could not find the back of the net. The increased pressure from Stoke wasn't a continued threat though and Liverpool were able to deal well with any efforts on goal.
At 80 minutes Klopp made his final substitution giving Benteke a run out for ten minutes but it was in defence where Liverpool had to remain focused. Unbelievably Kolo Toure late on in the game looked to have also done something to his hamstring. He's a tough lad Kolo though and you could tell he was determined to play on and fight for the win, despite the fact he would almost certainly exacerbate the injury.
He was absolutely brilliant Toure. Some make jokes about his age and claim he's lost his ability but he put in a brilliant performance on Tuesday evening. He won every aerial battle, wasn't knocked off possession, threw himself in at one stage to block what would have been an extremely dangerous cross, played through what clearly was a painful injury and gave absolutely everything for his team. Partnered by an out of position Lucas who also put his neck on the line for the Reds and won man of the match in the process, I think I will end this match report on the highlight of those two players.
People have been questioning Liverpool's consistency of late and also questioning the performance and desire of some players, well maybe they should take a leaf out of Kolo and Lucas' book because that is how you fight for your club.
Next up for the Reds is Exeter on Friday in the FA Cup.