Liverpool reaches League Cup final, ousts Stoke City on penalties
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Liverpool beat Stoke 6-5 on penalties to reach the English League Cup final on Tuesday, with Joe Allen scoring the decisive spot kick in the second leg.
Stoke won the match 1-0 after extra time through Marko Arnautovic's first-half goal, and the semifinal finished 1-1 on aggregate.
Both sides missed one of their first five penalties to take the shootout to sudden death. Stoke defender Marc Muniesa saw his effort saved by Simon Mignolet, and Allen converted high in the right corner before being mobbed by teammates.
Everton leads Manchester City 2-1 after the first leg of the other semifinal, which is completed on Wednesday.
The final is at Wembley Stadium on Feb. 28.
Stoke won at Anfield after 90 minutes for the first time since 1959 but the victory proved in vain for the midlands club, which was looking to reach its third final in this competition.
Instead, Liverpool — the most successful team in League Cup history — will look to add to its eight titles, with the possibility of an all-Merseyside final like in 1984. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be back at Wembley for the first time since he led Borussia Dortmund there in the all-German Champions League final in 2013, won by Bayern Munich.
Liverpool beat Norwich 5-4 in a Premier League classic on Saturday but its inconsistency under Klopp resurfaced here.
Stoke signaled its intent to make the game scrappy — and life uncomfortable for Liverpool — by starting with tall striker Peter Crouch and a hard-working fellow frontman in Jon Walters. The team has refined its playing style under Mark Hughes to make it more pleasing on the eye, but this was the Stoke of the Tony Pulis years.
The switch paid off.
Crouch was a constant menace and Liverpool's ball-playing midfielders were harried into basic mistakes. The distribution from both sides was very poor.
Arnautovic's goal was out of keeping with what went on previously in the first half. Bojan Krkic was played in behind isolated center back Mamadou Sakho, and the forward crossed for Arnautovic — arriving from an offside position — to sweep home a low finish.
Klopp sent on Christian Benteke to replace captain Jordan Henderson early in the second half to give Liverpool more presence up front but it made little difference, and Stoke continued to look more dangerous, especially when Arnautovic got the ball, and from set-pieces using Crouch's height.
Liverpool repelled late pressing to reach extra time, at the end of which away goals would take effect. And Stoke almost got its second when Marco van Ginkel struck a low shot against the post from Crouch's nod-down.