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Liverpool 0, Stoke City 1 (Agg 1-1, Pens 6-5): First Thoughts

There wasn't much between the two sides tonight, so the refs picked up the slack. The Reds somehow managed to win the shootout on a night when not much else went right.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

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Liverpool 0:
Stoke City 1: Arnautovic 45'

  • Pre-match: Liverpool can punch their ticket for a Wembly Anfield South final with a win or a draw over Stoke City tonight. It's no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest match of the season so far (but hopefully not the biggest match at the end of the season). Jon "Scouse Cafu" Flanagan comes in for an injured Nathaniel Clyne. Let's hope the local hero remembers how to shut down his flank, because Stoke will be looking to lump in crosses to former Liverpool big man Peter Crouch. Klopp has a huge smile on his face while the Kop sings "You'll Never Walk Alone." Give 'em hell boys! 

  • A couple of early (and ill-fated) attempts to play quick counter-attacking long passes. I wonder if this is part of the strategy to test a Shawcross-less backline, or just some nervy early misplaced passes from the midfield. Very odd for a Liverpool side to willingly concede possession and try to hit on the counter.
  • Flanagan passes his first test against Arnautovic, dispossessing the attacker before getting fouled.
  • Very touching moment at the 12th minute, as Anfield honors Owen McVeigh, the boy who recently passed away after a battle with cancer, with a banner, applause, and a rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone."
  • Emre Can doesn't unleash an ill-advised shot from outside the box, but he does carry the ball about 60 yards and out of play for a goal kick. Passing is also an option, Emre.
  • Moreno commits another stupid foul in a dangerous-ish area (and they're all dangerous for Liverpool at this point).
  • HUGE chance for Stoke. Walters is set through on a long ball and beats both Toure and Sakho. Thankfully he failed to test Mignolet and put the shot wide of target.
  • Both sides have settled into the match, and it has become a bit of a boring second leg so far. There has been a lot of sloppiness on both sides, and not a lot of flow.
  • Can, who seems intent on stamping his mark on this game somehow, nearly finds the mark with a screamer from about 25 yards.
  • Goal. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Liverpool's opponent scores on their first shot on target. Bojan plays in a cross to Arnautovic who is wide open in front of goal, a yard offside, and calmly finishes it. Sure, he should have been flagged for offside, but the defending was also criminally poor. 1-0 to Stoke, 1-1 on aggregate. 

  • Halftime: That goal to finish the half was a real punch in the gut. However, Stoke had the three best chances of the half, so you can't say a lead by the visitors is wholly undeserved. For Liverpool, it was a lackluster first half, with zero shots on target. It looked like we readily conceded possession to start the half, hoping to hit them on the counter, but the strategy clearly failed. Every time Liverpool had space to run into, the final pass was always left wanting. 

  • I don't know what's more embarrassing: our set play defending, or our set play attacking? Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. Six of what? Goals for the opposition and none for Liverpool.
  • Big penalty shout for Liverpool as Walters clatters Milner to the ground at the edge of the box. With that and the offside, Liverpool can feel rightly aggrieved if Stoke squeak through to the final.
  • Much more tempo to start the second half. Suddenly Liverpool have decided they want to get that winning goal. Might have been nice if they had decided this before conceding, but a good response nonetheless.
  • Sakho blocked a shot, which at this juncture, means he has more saves today than Mignolet has in what? The last three games?
  • Benteke on for Henderson. I'm not actually opposed to this. Firmino hasn't had the best of games, and Henderson has been pretty sloppy in midfield. And theoretically he should help on set pieces. Again, only in theory.
  • One positive: it looks like Lallana and Firmino are growing a pretty good on-field understanding. They've had a couple of moments that have been just a few inches away from a breakthrough tonight.
  • Flanagan puts in the most promising cross of the night, but Liverpool's attackers are just a step slow, and Butland collects the well-played but ultimately harmless ball.
  • Oh man, the ball unexpectedly falls to Flanno right in front of goal, but the local fullback can't get a shot away. I might be incredibly biased when it comes to #38, but he's had a great performance tonight: very solid defensively, and adding just enough going forward as well.
  • Unleash the Welsh Pirlo! Allen comes on for Toure. Papa Lucas to center back.
  • Are you fucking kidding me? A clear handball in the box goes uncalled. If Liverpool go through, it'll be despite the referees' best efforts. 

  • Full time: Extra football...yay. A much better second half from Liverpool, though ultimately fruitless. To his credit, Liverpool looked much better after the introduction of Christian Benteke, but still only one shot on target. (And to be fair, we've only given up one shot on target, but we know how that usually works out). 

  • Liverpool try their best to pull van Ginkel down in the box, but he stays on his feet and shoots off the near post and out of play. Otherwise, a pretty uneventful first 15 of extra time.
  • Ibe comes on for Flanagan. Great first start for Flanno, hopefully much more to come the rest of the season.
  • More last-ditch defending from Liverpool. Stoke haven't had a lot of chances, but the chances they've had have been dangerous. And what's that? An honest to goodness save from Mignolet! He'll need to make a couple in the penalty shootout if Liverpool are to advance tonight.
  • Ibe blows Liverpool's best chance of the evening with a shot about 20 rows deep into the Kop. Other than Ibe, all the players are visibly tired and neither team can string together too many passes in a row.
  • Stoke get away with another handball at the edge of the box. I...I can't even. 

  • After Extra Time: So, can Mignolet beat Butland in the shootout? Probably not. Also, this was Stoke's first win at Anfield since 1959. Good timing.
  • After Pens: There wasn't much between the two sides tonight, other than a couple of favorable decisions on both ends of the pitch. Liverpool didn't quite deserve to win, but they didn't necessarily deserve to lose either. Somehow after all that, Wee Joe gets the winner after 7 penalties a piece!

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We'll be back shortly to take an in-depth look at everything that happened in today's game with the full recap. Until then, let us know your take on the ups and downs of the match in the comments, and if you haven't already, join the community on the Liverpool Offside, where we'll have full coverage and lively in-game discussion for every match this season.

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