If Jurgen Klopp wanted a response from his Liverpool side, he was certainly answered in the best manner possible.
The Reds' performance in their 2-0 loss to West Ham United at the weekend was nothing short of lacklustre. Liverpool were not good enough in east London and thoroughly deserved their defeat.
If there was any game to be motivated for this season, it was on Tuesday evening when Liverpool travelled to Stoke City in the first leg of the semi-final of the Capital One Cup.
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The Britannia has been a graveyard for the Merseyside outfit in recent years but, for the second time this campaign, they battled to a 1-0 victory at the stadium.
Away supporters travelled back from West Ham furious and annoyed they'd spent so much money to go to London and back with no reward.
It was a contrasting situation on Tuesday night and Kopites returned to Merseyside delighted, with their side within touching distance of a Wembley final.
The Potters have been one of the most improved teams in the Premier League this term. Mark Hughes has serious ambition for Stoke and the signings of Xherdan Shaqiri this summer and Bojan in 2014 has seen the Staffordshire side play more attractive football this season. They recently put four past Everton on the road and also dispatched Manchester United on home soil with relative ease.
But, in the latter stages of the match against Liverpool, Stoke reverted to the tactics of when Tony Pulis was at the helm.
Hughes brought on old guards Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch and Stoke lumped long balls into the mixer, looking to force mistakes out of the Reds' back four who conceded both goals from crosses against West Ham.
However, the Liverpool rearguard was resilient and defended admirably.
Things went from bad for worse for Klopp when Dejan Lovren limped off injured just minutes after Philippe Coutinho left the field of play with the same problem.
The pair became the fourth and fifth individuals to be added to Liverpool’s injury list with a hamstring-related injury, and questions must be asked about how hard they’re being pushed in training.
Kolo Toure was Klopp's only recognised centre-back and he was forced to deploy Lucas in the heart of defence when Lovren was substituted.
Toure was making his first start for almost a month and, if it wasn't for his name being chanted throughout the PDC World Darts Championship over the last few weeks, many would have forgotten he was part of the Reds’ squad.
Nonetheless, the Ivory Coast international was top-class at the back. He put his body on the line from the first to the final whistle, throwing himself at any loose ball. Toure will be invaluable to Klopp over the next few weeks with Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and quite possibly Lovren out injured for the foreseeable future.
Lucas' performance in a position he's vastly inexperienced in also had to be applauded. At centre-back, the Brazilian slotted in with a minimal amount of fuss and was competitive against the physical threat of Walters and Crouch after the break, as well as the trickery of Shaqiri.
Klopp will no doubt have to play his hand in the transfer market this month given his current injury list and bring in a new centre-back as a short-term solution.
Joe Allen has received his fair share of critics since he moved to Anfield from Swansea City in 2012 but the Welshman arguably had his best ever game in a Liverpool shirt.
Allen filled the void of Lucas and made a number of superb challenges in the middle of the park, as well as playing several smart passes and committed himself on the attack.
Klopp likely did not want to risk James Milner - who was making his return from injury - but his vice-captain came off the bench for Lovren and was the perfect player to grit his teeth and rise to the battle.
Coutinho has been somewhat out of form in recent weeks, but he looked as lively as ever against the Potters.
Firmino answers critics
Klopp chose to relegate Christian Benteke to the bench following a string of disappointing performances from the Belgian, most recently in Saturday’s defeat to West Ham.
The attacking trio of Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana were so effective in Liverpool’s 4-1 thrashing of Manchester City and they reignited their partnership again. All three were lively from the word go, with Lallana forcing a decent stop from Jack Butland within the first minute.
Coutinho’s absence will be missed in upcoming matches against Arsenal and United but, if his compatriot Firmino plays like he did at the Britannia, the Reds should be just fine.
The jury has very much been out on the ex-Hoffenheim man since his £29 million summer transfer. Over the past month, Firmino has been somewhat of a spectator and the frustration from Klopp on the touchline during several matches has told the story.
Firmino looked to have taken all of the criticism on the chin and was raring to go against Stoke. His movement was much more direct and threatening, and he began by playing several one-two’s with Coutinho.
Firmino stepped up to the plate without Coutinho alongside him. He moved into the middle and his subtle movement and creative ideas gave Hughes’ side all sorts of problems.
Jordon Ibe is a favourite of Klopp’s and there’s no wonder why. The England Under-21 international loves a goal off the bench and his strike at the Britannia may have been his most important in his Liverpool career thus far.
Milner spotted Lallana in acres of space on the right wing which gave Liverpool the perfect opportunity to counter. The Reds got numbers into the box and Lallana got his head up to find Allen, who miscued his effort.
Allen should have scored but luckily Ibe was lurking on his toes to get a second bite of the cherry and fired past Butland on his unfavoured left foot.
Simon Mignolet was never really tested by the Stoke attack except for Joselu’s looping, deflected effort that was tipped over the bar late on. It showed just how good Liverpool’s defence was and they held off all the pressure thrown at them. Whether a cross or a shot, it always seemed that there was a black shirt in the way to prevent any danger.
Klopp will be desperate to reach a Wembley final less than half-a-year since taking the job in L4.
The job is far from over and the Potters will be hungry for revenge in the return leg but it’s advantage Liverpool.
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