The League Cup has provided some confidence-boosting results and performances for an inconsistent Liverpool side. Tomorrow's semi-final second leg presents an opportunity to secure a place in the final, and fortunately for Merseyside's finest, a lot of good work was undertaken in the first leg that will ensure gaps will be left by the away side for Jürgen Klopp's side to potentially exploit.
When Liverpool kicked off this season's League Cup campaign against Carlisle in September, there was a exhausted air of resignation and frustration as it took 90 minutes, extra time, and penalties to vanquish lowly opponents. Liverpool fans found their voice during a penalty shoot-out, knowing that the players might need an extra push to move into the next round. With one of the most charismatic managers in the game and a place in the final at stake, in many ways, Liverpool have come a long way.
Klopp seems determined to get Anfield going each and every game, but understands there are some occasions where the fans will not need to be cajoled into action. Despite not winning a league title since 1990, Liverpool have continued to pick up trophies and take part in some memorable finals. The 48-year-old former Borussia Dortmund manager is one of football's romantics and is well aware of Liverpool's reputation in the latter stages of cup competitions.
"I’ve heard about the special atmosphere in semi-finals at Anfield. I’m really looking forward to it," Klopp enthused. "I am really excited. Let’s take the power of LFC and go to the final. "We could have been clearer in front after the first leg but now we have the best situation for the second leg. We got a lead away from home and now we have the opportunity to play at Anfield.
"We have to prepare everything as much as possible and that is what we are doing, not thinking about the first leg result. We want to defend next to perfection and we have to because Stoke are a really good team. Mark Hughes has done a brilliant job in changing the team’s style of the last 10 years. That’s not easy. They will keep going this way. We have problems with our line-up and so do they, but you have to be ready for the semi-final."
Liverpool reached the same stage last season but could not find a way past Chelsea over two legs. Playing well was undermined with midfield issues and curious substitutions as both sides entered extra time with the game evenly-poised. Finishing was a problem again, but the match is becoming increasingly difficult to remember. Klopp -- ever the opinionated manager -- has a few ideas on why this writer's memory might be failing.
"Going through won’t mean too much because it is only a step," Klopp pointed out. "Reaching a final is cool but it’s not the same as winning. I don’t think people know who was second in the Capital One Cup four years ago. Reaching a final is great but it only matters if you win it.
"Tomorrow we have one target – go to the final. If we do that you should celebrate it more in your mind than in the real world as we have another big game on Saturday (against West Ham). It’s football and you should not waste opportunities to win something. The players have been here longer than I and they really want to reach the final. Hopefully I can go with them."
Liverpool's players dare not fail a manager who has never lost a semi-final or a club undefeated at Anfield in League Cup semi-finals.