League Cup final could spark Klopp era to lift Liverpool
Simon Mignolet's shoot-out heroics send the Reds to Wembley as manager chases first silverware
Liverpool 0 Stoke 1 (1-1 on aggregate; Liverpool win 6-5 on penalties)
Under-fire Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was the hero as the Reds booked their place in the League Cup final after beating Stoke on penalties at Anfield.
The Belgian stopper made two saves in the shoot-out, the second of which was a brilliant stop low to his left, allowing Reds midfielder Joe Allen to seal victory with his spot-kick in sudden death.
Earlier, Stoke's Peter Crouch had seen his effort saved by Mignolet before Liverpool's Emre Can hit the post to give The Potters hope.
But it was Stoke defender Marc Muniesa who was the unlucky man in the penalty shoot-out, although he had little to be ashamed of. His spot-kick was heading for the corner before Mignolet produced what Henry Winter of The Times calls an "unbelievable save, flying through the air to his left, stretching out a hand and pushing the ball away".
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp could not watch Allen's kick - but joined the wild celebrations when it went in. "Everyone can see the German's impact, the improvement in players, the more attractive football and more intelligent tactics, but Klopp needed this result, this chance of silverware," says Winter.
However, the irony is that few of the characteristics instilled by Klopp were on display during the match. Liverpool held a 1-0 lead going into the game but produced an insipid display, allowing Stoke to claim a 1-0 victory of their own, thanks to a suspiciously offside goal from striker Marko Arnoutovic.
Liverpool threatened little and it was Stoke who came closest in extra time.
When victory eventually came, the reaction in Anfield was "not a cry of triumph", says Jim White of the Daily Telegraph: "It was more an explosion of relief. The fans here knew what they were witnessing: Liverpool's own version of the great escape."
Klopp will be aware of his team's limitations, but he will also understand the significance of Mignolet's save, adds White. "He knows what the injection of confidence in reaching a final might do to his beleaguered players. He knows it could lead to greater things. Which has long been reckoned the point of this competition hereabouts."
What's more, Liverpool can look forward to the prospect of a final against local rivals Everton, who lead Manchester City 2-1 after the first leg of the second semi-final.