Lucas Leiva top performer for Liverpool in cup victory at Stoke
Liverpool bounced back from their weekend loss at West Ham, putting themselves in a good position to clinch a trip to Wembley with an impressive 1-0 win at Stoke in the Capital One Cup semifinal first leg.
Substitute Jordon Ibe got the only goal of the game, but a good night for the Reds was marred by three more players succumbing to hamstring injuries. Klopp had bemoaned "hamstring" as the worst word of 2015, and sadly, it appears that the new year has not brought him a change of luck. Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren both left the field in the first half, and Kolo Toure ended the game hobbling after pulling up in the last minute.
The one crumb of comfort for Liverpool is that the second leg is not for another three weeks, so the club's crippling injury list might have eased by then.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Simon Mignolet, 7 -- Made a good save to deny former Liverpool man Glen Johnson just before halftime and was secure under the high ball all night. Picked up a yellow card for time-wasting, but Klopp won't mind that.
DF Nathaniel Clyne, 7 -- Not much of a factor in attack but did a great job of shutting down his side of the field to Stoke's attackers. Allowed very few crosses to come in and made numerous timely interceptions and blocks. The England man has been Liverpool's most reliable performer this season.
DF Kolo Toure, 8 -- Outstanding display from the veteran Ivorian. He used his vast experience to good effect in anticipating and clearing danger. Made numerous headed clearances and put his body on the line late when Stoke were pressing for an equaliser. Appeared to pull his hamstring in the closing stages and was a virtual passenger in stoppage time as Emre Can had to drop into the back four.
DF Dejan Lovren, 7 -- The Croatian has been in good form in recent months, and he was proving to be a commanding presence once again before he was forced off with an injury on the half-hour mark. With Martin Skrtel already sidelined and Toure seemingly injured, too, Liverpool have no fit central defenders; Mamadou Sakho is also carrying a knock that ruled him out of this game.
DF Alberto Moreno, 7 -- Energetic and tenacious display from the Spaniard, especially in the first half, when he put the Reds on the front foot on several occasions by pressing and winning the ball to launch counterattacks. After the break he had to be more conservative as Stoke introduced the physical Jon Walters and went more direct to try to expose Lucas. Overall, another good performance from a player who is enjoying a good season.
MF Emre Can, 7 -- Competitive and composed. A good night's work from the young German, who provided a good shield in front of his defence but still had the energy to get forward and support the attack.
MF Lucas Leiva, 9 -- Began the game in midfield and impressed by snapping into challenges and distributing the ball quickly. Pressed into emergency duty at centre-back following the injury to Lovren and did a magnificent job in an unfamiliar position.
MF Joe Allen, 7 -- Handed a rare start, the Welshman was hard-working, efficient with his passing and provided good energy in Liverpool's midfield by regularly making runs ahead of the forward players. Will be credited with a dubious assist as his scuffed shot fell perfectly for Ibe to open the scoring. Replaced late on by Christian Benteke.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Heavily involved in Liverpool's bright start but was forced off after becoming the latest Liverpool player to be struck down with hamstring trouble just 17 minutes into the game. Klopp will hope it's not too serious. Liverpool can ill-afford to be without their best attacking player, given their chronic lack of firepower.
FW Adam Lallana, 7 -- Created the only goal of the game when he escaped down the right and produced a perfect cutback to Allen that eventually led to Ibe scoring at the back post. Much of his best work was done off the ball, and he worked tirelessly to prevent Stoke playing out from the back.
FW Roberto Firmino, 8 -- Much improved display from the struggling Brazilian. He was bright and inventive and set the tone for Liverpool's excellent first-half pressing by nicking the ball off defenders on several occasions to turn defence into attack. The only thing that let him down was his wayward shooting, but otherwise it was an encouraging performance.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
FW Jordon Ibe, 7 -- Replaced the injured Coutinho in the 18th minute and slotted into the same left-sided attacking role with ease. Produced a nice finish for the only goal of the game and went close to another after the break when he turned Johnson inside out before shooting into the side netting.
MF James Milner, 7 -- His first touch after replacing Lovren in the 34th minute was to play a superb ball down the line to Lallana in the build up to the opening goal, and he provided a calming presence with his experience and ability to play the right pass and keep possession. Not flashy and has struggled at times this season, but Liverpool have missed him while he has been out and will be glad to have him back.
FW Christian Benteke, NR -- Replaced Allen in the 79th minute, most likely in case he was needed to defend set-pieces, which, as it turned out, he wasn't.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.