Jurgen Klopp praised the impact made by Daniel Sturridge in Liverpool's 6-1 defeat of Southampton, but refused to accept his team had been given the choice Capital One Cup semi-final draw against Stoke.
With masterful finishes, Sturridge scored Liverpool's first two goals after Sadio Mane's header had given Southampton the lead in the opening minute of their quarter-final fixture. Klopp's team were thereafter fully in control, inspiring Divock Origi's first goals for the club when the Belgian scored a hat-trick, in addition to a further, impressive finish in the second half from substitute Jordon Ibe.
Liverpool's progress since Klopp's appointment less than two months ago has been significant and dramatic, but with Sturridge perhaps the key component in their pursuit of a first major trophy since 2012 and a top-four finish in the Premier League, the striker's goals will likely have encouraged his manager more than anything else he has so far seen.
The German, however, who had recently suggested the striker should be prepared to play even if unconvinced he was 100 per cent fit, remained reluctant to say he could return to the level he showed until his injury problems began in 2014.
"I said to him after the game, 'Now I know what everybody's talking about'," Klopp said. "Of course, I know about his quality. It's important for us we have these good strikers.
"How should I know (if Sturridge can get back to his career-best form of 2013/14)? Maybe he can be better. Write this: 'Daniel Sturridge can be much better than he was'.
"No (Sturridge did not need convincing to start). The problem with Daniel was we didn't know how long he could play. He had not the perfect pre-season.
"It was a good decision (to select him), I have to say."
In progressing to the semi-finals against Stoke, Liverpool avoided the potentially more difficult draws against Everton or Manchester City, but Klopp pointed to his team's recent 4-1 win at City as proof they need not be concerned about facing them, and insisted that Stoke remain a significant challenge.
"I have absolutely no problems with a match against Everton," he said. "As you could see we have no problem with matches against Manchester City, but we got Stoke.
"I've had a few finals in my life and I know there was never an easy one. Stoke will want this final, for sure."
The 6-1 defeat represented Southampton's worst at home for 56 years, since a 6-0 loss to Brentford in March 1959, and while criticising his team for making it "too easy" for Liverpool, their manager, Ronald Koeman, accepted responsibility for the attacking changes which he said ultimately increased their deficit.
"(It was) great play of Liverpool," he said. "They played a fantastic game. Very complete, defensively strong, good movement, and they killed the game with high quality, but (it was) too easy in my opinion.
"The second half is my responsibility. I took the decision to play three at the back, and the first 20 minutes after half-time it was a little bit better, but we didn't score, and the last 20 minutes, there were too big spaces, too big gaps."
Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE: https://www.givemesport.com/writeforgms