BATTLING Liverpool return from Stoke City and their ASDA price dugouts with bags of character and a precious 1-0 lead after the first leg of the League Cup semi-final.
The victory was not without its cost, with both Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren succumbing to the curse of the banjoed hamstring. Big Kolo Toure was merely suffering with cramp, according to Jürgen Klopp.
But, as the saying goes, when the Reds win, we all win — and a backs-to-the-wall victory is always a good one.
Here is how they scored.
Simon Mignolet: 7
Quiet opening period with only a single catch from a cross to deal with until two minutes into injury time when the Belgian made a excellent stop from Glen Johnson’s well-struck shot from outside the box.
An extra half point for needling the Stoke fans throughout the second half, which eventually resulted in a booking for his troubles.
Good punch late on to clear a ball across away from the head of Peter Crouch.
Nathaniel Clyne: 6
Neat and tidy, as is now expected from the England international. Calm in possession and never flustered. Seemed to switch off a little between 45 and 60, and could have done better breaking into the Stoke area late on but a poor touch let him down and he ended up getting clattered.
Kolo Toure: 8
Man of the match. Immense from the veteran Ivorian. Good early interception set the tone and the 34-year-old centre back was strong, first to everything, positive and encouraging in testing circumstances against a forward line that has caused huge problems for other teams.
Couple of last-ditch headers and one massive diving block on 82 minutes topped off a heroic 94 minutes for Toure, who played the last 10 with only one leg.
Dejan Lovren: 6
Will be devastated to have to go off injured on 33 minutes after an encouraging half hour. Looked like he’d shrugged off the West Ham result and was back to his recent improved form.
Great tackle on Shaqiri that caused his injury.
Alberto Moreno: 5.5
Strange one for Albie. Aggressive in possession and safe enough in possession defensively, but doesn’t seem to be able to stop a cross to save his life. Much more conservative in the second half — so much so that it could only have been on the manager’s instruction.
Couple of decent early corners, too.
Lucas Leiva: 6.5
Invaluable experience from start to finish. Sat in front of the back four and showed composure and intelligence to take the ball off the back four and link with Joe Allen and Emre Can. Made a couple of important headers and interceptions when Stoke looked to get on the attack.
Dropped back in to cover for Lovren and didn’t do much wrong, one header in particular on 53 felt incredibly important, he followed that up with a great challenge two minutes later on Bojan.
Emre Can: 7
Strong showing from the matinee idol in midfield. Showed good physicality and set his stall out early with some strong challenges to win 50/50 tackles and headers. Neat and tidy in possession, can only remember one soft pass all game.
Lovely crossfield ball to Ibe in the second half, seems to be finding his range with the medium/long stuff. Seemed to consciously reassert himself in the last 10 with legs going all around him. Got the Reds over the line.
Joe Allen: 7
The fulcrum in the midfield triumvirate that dominated Stoke early on, always available for a pass and used possession well. Covered every angle of the pitch and pushed on well on occasion. Unlucky twice losing his footing when he had a good chance to develop play.
DEFFO meant the assist.
Adam Lallana: 7.5
Only a slight second to Kolo in the MOTM running.
Frustrates the hell out of me most weeks but was mustard today. Had an early sighter against Butland that seemed to give him confidence.
Showed great energy and effective trickery over the course of the game and put in two great crosses, one of which resulted in the goal. Calm in possession late on to limit the Stoke onslaught.
Philippe Coutinho: 6
Looked lively in an encouraging opening and might have done better on the quarter-of-an-hour mark when in a decent area. Looked sharper than last few weeks. Hopefully the injury won’t be too bad.
Roberto Firmino: 5
A funny one — looks elegantly shite. Involved in loads, won the ball in great areas twice only to fluff his lines and his timing of pass seems to be off — either that or his team-mates just aren’t on the same wavelength.
Works hard and puts himself about but can be awfully casual in possession. Could have scored a fluke when Butland cannoned the ball off him and looks the type to miss three sitters then score a worldie.
Want the lad to succeed desperately but looked way off it.
Jordon Ibe 6.5
Came on for Coutinho and duly lashed a wild one off target only to make up for it 10 minutes later.
Heard people say it was a bad touch for the goal but he adjusted well after Joe Allen’s gorgeous feint as the ball came to him at an awkward pace and angle.
Looked sharp in flashes but drifted in and out of the game and put us in massive trouble late on with a stupid dribble near the touchline.
Hopefully he can kick on and rediscover his early Klopp form.
James Milner: 7
Fantastic pass to Lallana for the goal under massive pressure after only being on the pitch for three minutes. Slotted in well to a Lucas-sized hole in the midfield for the most part and clever in possession.
Won a couple of pressure-releasing challenges late on, including one from a dangerous free-kick right in the heart of the 18-yard box.
Came on for Allen and did the job he was instructed to — held the ball up and won a couple of headers.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe