Liverpool 2 Origi 76', Woodburn 81'
After another grinding performance against a defensively organised and physically aggressive side, Liverpool again manage to find enough to win with time running out, courtesy of Divock Origi and Ben Woodburn, and move on to the League Cup semi finals.
Jürgen Klopp continued the trend from last month's EFL Cup clash with Tottenham, making eight changes and putting his faith in youths and second stringers. Simon Mignolet returned in goal, shielded by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lucas Leiva, Ragnar Klavan and Alberto Moreno. Kevin Stewart anchored the midfield three, supported by Emre Can and Ovie Ejaria, while Origi was flanked by Sadio Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum.
In what has become a bit of a trend in cup competition against supposedly weak opposition, the Reds started a bit sluggishly, and were nearly punished in the third minute. A loss of possession allowed Leeds to counter, and Hadi Sacko was played clean through on goal. Fortunately for the home side, Mignolet was quick off his line and denied the Mali man his goal.
On ten minutes, 19 year-old Ejaria threaded a filthy little dink through three defenders, but Wijnaldum's finish was tipped past the post by Marco Silvestri. In a half marred by misunderstandings, sloppy passing, physical play and some head-scratching refereeing, quality was rarely to be found. Other than Klavan providing some comedy with a dreadful effort from 25 yards, Mignolet dropping a cross in traffic, and Can poking inches wide after the counterpress forced a loose backpass, not much of interest happened before the whistle.
Five minutes into the second half, Liverpool utterly Arsenaled a good chance, as Can, Wijnaldum and Origi all got the ball stuck in their feet looking for a killer ball rather than taking a shot. Minutes later, a series of risky moves at the back culminated in Stewart getting robbed at the edge of his won box and Kemar Roofe chipping an effort over Mignolet and back off the post, to a sigh of relief from the Kop.
Around the hour mark, Lucas had had enough and broke forward after intercepting a pass, went by a couple of Leeds defenders and laid the ball off to Can, who took a left-footed effort from 18 yards instead of moving the ball to Wijnaldum on the left side of the box. The shot was deflected and easily collected. Kyle Bartley headed wide from a corner, and Stewart had to leave the pitch with a head injury, to be replaced by 17-year old forward Ben Woodburn.
Twenty minutes from time, the hosts started to pile on the pressure and creating chances. First, Wijnaldum hit the post following a sliding through ball by Mané, before Woodburn's follow-up effort was blocked for a corner. Then Alexander-Arnold delivered an absolute peach of a deep cross, slicing in between the defence and goalkeeper, where Origi had made a darting run and was on hand to poke home at the near post.
Origi momentarily went down holding his ankle, but was back up again moments later to set up Liverpool's second. Some terrific tricky interplay with Mané saw the Belgian display some fancy feet in the box before dinking it into Wijnaldum right in front of goal. The Dutch midfielder took a touch and flicked the ball on to Woodburn, who hammered the ball into the near corner with his first touch, taking his place in the Liverpool history books as their youngest ever goalscorer, aged 17 years and 45 days. The celebrations of Klopp and Milner on the sidelines betrayed delight at more than just the score.
With ten minutes left, there was time for the visitors to look dangerous, but Sacko fired high and wide after Moreno fell down during a recovery run, and time expired without advancement ever really threatened.
It was another laborious day on the job for a number of Reds players, as bad decisions combined with sloppy execution made for a messy game. Mané, Klavan, Stewart and Moreno in particular struggled throughout, while Can, Wijnaldum and Origi were uneven, despite the latter continuing his goalscoring run. Alexander-Arnold and Ejaria had more difficult displays than previously, but acquitted themselves well, with the young right-back's assist a real highlight. Simon Mignolet made a number of qualified saves, and Lucas was the pick of the bunch, providing experience and quality throughout.
The story of the night, though, should and will be young Ben Woodburn, who kept things simple, got into dangerous positions, and emphatically finished when the opportunity was presented to him. He comes into a team much better suited to bringing a young talent along than the previous record holder did, and should be awarded ample time and opportunity to grow before fans begin to expect frequent first team contributions, despite his record-breaking goal.
Two-legged semi-finals next, then, with the draw scheduled for tomorrow, and difficult opposition as far as the eye can see.