Stoke City 0-1 Liverpool: Jordon Ibe draws first blood in Capital One Cup semi-final first leg
Liverpool drew first blood in their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg at Stoke where a resilient performance was capped by Jordon Ibe's first-half winner.
An angry Jurgen Klopp demanded his players give more after a lacklustre 2-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday and they duly obliged by putting their bodies on the line - at considerable expense.
They lost playmaker Philippe Coutinho and defender Dejan Lovren to hamstring injuries inside 35 minutes and their only fit centre-back - Mamadou Sakho missed the game with a minor knee problem - Kolo Toure gingerly limped off at full-time holding the back of his thigh.
The only upside of those injuries was the early introduction of Ibe, who injected pace down the left and ultimately provided the only goal.
Liverpool's current tally of 22 goals in 20 league matches is the lowest in their history and their starting line-up, with Christian Benteke dropped, had just nine to their credit this season - Stoke's Marko Arnautovic started with seven to himself.
Klopp's call for a response after a woeful weekend display was heeded from the off with Roberto Firmino, playing as a nominal number nine instead of Benteke, testing Jack Butland after just 36 seconds.
It was virtually one-way traffic in the opening half-hour as Stoke's footballing front four of Bojan Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Arnautovic hardly got a kick and even when they did Bojan completely fluffed his shot when the unmarked Shaqiri cut a low corner back to him.
By then Liverpool had already lost Coutinho to a hamstring injury and when Lovren went off as well it meant the Reds had six players either with, or recovering from, a similar problem - in addition to Jordan Henderson (heel), Danny Ings, Joe Gomez (both long-term knee ligaments) and Sakho on the sidelines.
But just as they appeared to be losing their momentum, Ibe struck at the opportune moment.
Joe Allen appeared to have mis-hit a shot from Adam Lallana's 37th-minute cross but on second inspection the Wales midfielder had opened up his body shape to divert the ball on to Ibe who fired home at the far post.
Arnautovic headed wide before Simon Mignolet saved from former team-mate Glen Johnson at a corner and the half-time introduction of forward Jon Walters for midfielder Geoff Cameron gave Liverpool's makeshift central defensive pair of Toure and midfielder Lucas Leiva much more to think about.
Alberto Moreno's tackle on Glenn Whelan could have resulted in a penalty - as could the Stoke midfielder's challenge on Allen at the other end - before Firmino almost inadvertently made the match safe when Butland's blasted clearance rebounded into the goalkeeper's hands and fortunately not over his head while Stoke's greatest threat came from substitute Joselu's deflected shot which Mignolet tipped over.
Walters dragged a shot wide with the last kick of the match but Stoke are far from out of the tie as they head to Anfield knowing that is where Liverpool are often more vulnerable.
Liverpool team: Mignolet, Clyne, Toure, Lovren, Moreno, Lucas, Can, Allen, Coutinho, Lallana, Firmino. Subs: Bogdan, Milner, Benteke, Brannagan, Ibe, Smith, Randall
Stoke City team: Boja, Arnautovic, Cameron, Afellay, Whelan , Shaqiri, Pieters, Wollscheid, Shawcross, Johnson, Buland, Subs: Haugaard, Joselu, Wilson, V.Ginkel, Adam, Walters, Crouch
Here, we look at some talking points ahead of the match.
1 Liverpool are favourites for the tie - but is that warranted?
The Reds scraped a 1-0 win against Stoke on the opening weekend of the season under Brendan Rodgers but that was only their third win in nine attempts at the Britannia Stadium. While it may not quite be the daunting place it was under Tony Pulis, the Potters can still turn it on for the big names with Chelsea (twice), Manchester City and Manchester United all losing there this season.
2 Consistency is a problem for both teams, so who is the most likely to bounce back from a disappointing defeat at the weekend?
After failing to win their first six matches this season, Stoke have recorded 11 victories in 17 attempts since and have not gone more than two games without a win. Liverpool looked to have momentum from late October to early December with seven wins in eight, but since hammering Southampton 6-1 in the quarter-final they have won just two of five and those victories were not particularly convincing.
3 Why are they so inconsistent?
In one word: goals - or lack of them. Liverpool's 22 from 20 league matches is the lowest total in their history and with their only fit striker Christian Benteke still not firing on all cylinders it has been a struggle. Stoke have only 21 league goals themselves but four of those came at Everton last week.
4 What are the chances of Liverpool keeping a clean sheet?
Slim. Manager Jurgen Klopp has admitted they cannot defend crosses and West Brom, Watford and West Ham have all demonstrated as much in the last couple of weeks. Regular centre-back Martin Skrtel is out injured and Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho have not looked comfortable together.
5 Where can Stoke win the game?
The Potters profited against City and United with a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation which gets all their creative players - Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan Krkic, Ibrahim Afellay and Marko Arnautovic - onto the pitch at the same time. Shaqiri's threat out wide on the right could be a real factor with Arnautovic, in particular, benefiting from cutting inside from the left flank.
Klopp outlines weaknesses ahead of clash
Stoke's preparation should have told them everything they needed to know about how to beat Liverpool but just in case Reds manager Jurgen Klopp has spelled it out for them.
The Reds head to the Britannia Stadium, where they have won just three times in nine visits, for their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg looking to rectify the two issues which are killing their consistency.
Just 22 goals in 20 league matches is the worst return in their history and coupled with a propensity to be dominated in the air at set-pieces it makes for a frustrating time for Klopp, who saw his side lose 2-0 at West Ham on Saturday with both goals coming from far-post crosses.
"We have an issue with crosses, before we had an issue with set-plays. It is always a ball in the air," he said.
"As long as the ball is on the ground most of the time we handle it. When the ball is in the air we have some problems with the goals we conceded. We know this, we have not solved this.
"We were really serious in analysing. Clear in our words. No excuses. We have to change for sure.
"Talking is easy, changing is more difficult but nevertheless we have to do it."
Klopp is two matches away from Wembley, where he last visited as Borussia Dortmund manager when they lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final, and has impressed on his players the significance of seeing things through to the end.
"It is always important because if you have the chance and you don't try to go for it then it is a waste of time," he said.
"It is not our target to be part of the final, there is only one reason in tournaments like this and it is to win it.
"How important it can be for our development is a question we can only answer in a few weeks or months."
While Klopp will be without striker Daniel Sturridge, who had a minor setback in training as he continues his recovery from a hamstring problem, Stoke were boosted by news of Geoff Cameron's successful appeal against his red card against West Brom on Saturday.
"I would suggest that this is a good time to be playing Liverpool at home because we are looking for a major reaction, and more often than not, on the back of disappointing performances, we bounce back strongly," said manager Mark Hughes.
"We are the home team and when everything clicks into gear, at home, we have shown that we can cause any team in the country big problems.
"The important thing for us is to make sure we are still well in the tie going into the second leg, and then see where it takes us."
Hughes eager for silverware
Stoke manager Mark Hughes claimed plenty of trophies as a player but is eager to hunt down some silverware from the dugout - something he feels British managers are not getting enough opportunities to do.
Hughes' side head into Tuesday's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg home clash against Liverpool with the former Manchester United and Chelsea forward and Manchester City boss still yet to win a competition during his management career.
And he said: "I remember those emotions, the excitement and pride you get from winning things, and I'd love to be able to do it as a manager.
"I have been close, with a couple of FA Cup semi-finals and a League Cup semi-final at Blackburn.
"I got to a League Cup semi-final at City but got sacked before we played it, although that's another story.
"I haven't been able to make that next step and I would love to get some silverware.
"I had a fantastic playing career and that was the norm for me - that was what my expectation was.
"As a manager, it's more difficult. There's a debate around British managers and the opportunities they have.
"If you look over the years, the top jobs in this country haven't really become available. At Man United, Sir Alex (Ferguson) was there for a long time, Arsene Wenger's still in situ (at Arsenal), Chelsea don't appoint British managers and Man City was an opportunity which unfortunately was taken away from me.
"A lot of foreign managers are able to build their CVs domestically, so when people look, they can see they've won cups and leagues - for British managers, that is a bit more difficult."
The Welshman is also keen for his players to enter Stoke folklore the way their predecessors did when they won the League Cup - the only major trophy in the club's history - in 1971-72, the last season they made the semi-finals.
He said: "This club has a group of ex-players who are rightly lauded because of what they did and we'd love to be another group viewed in the same light."
The Potters have already made notable progress since Hughes took charge in 2013, achieving their best-ever Barclays Premier League finish of ninth a year later before matching it the season after.
They are currently 10th, and on the prospect of European football, Hughes said: "We want to keep progressing and Europe is another thing we want to be part of.
"We may be able to do that through our league position or it may have to be through cup competitions, but we would take it however it comes."
Like Jurgen Klopp's eighth-placed Liverpool, Stoke go into Tuesday's encounter on the back of a weekend defeat, but it was only the fourth reverse in the Potters' last 15 top-flight games, eight of which they have won.
They have emerged triumphant from five of their last six home matches in all competitions - including victories against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United - and although they lost 1-0 at home to Liverpool earlier this season, they finished the last by winning that fixture 6-1.
And Hughes said: "If everything goes for us we could take the tie away from Liverpool in this first instance. We certainly have the potential.
"Given the different financial outlays of the clubs, perhaps the difference between the two teams isn't as marked as it should be."
Hughes will have Geoff Cameron available on Tuesday, Stoke having been successful with their appeal against the red card the midfielder received in Saturday's loss at West Brom.
Belfast Telegraph Digital