Liverpool’s continued inconsistent form in the Premier League makes it plain that Jurgen Klopp will need time to turn the Merseyside club back into a real force. But he could yet earn a quick return for his efforts with the chance to deliver a trophy in his first season via the Capital One Cup. On Tuesday, Klopp’s team will visit Stoke City in the first leg of the competition’s semifinals.
It means Liverpool are just 180 minutes away from their first appearance in a major final since 2012, when Kenny Dalglish led them to the final of both the League Cup and FA Cup, winning the former and losing the latter. It was always a knock against Dalglish’s successor Brendan Rodgers that he failed to deliver any silverware. And, although Klopp won’t ultimately be judged on his record in the two domestic cup competitions, he could certainly give his reign a kick-start by holding a trophy aloft at Wembley next month.
In the effort to achieve their prime goal of reaching the Champions League, Liverpool have proved frustrating. While they have scored wins over Manchester City, Chelsea and Leicester City, they lost convincingly in recent weeks to both Watford and West Ham. One of the biggest problems for Klopp so far has been finding the right man to lead the attack. Christian Benteke’s scoring return has been respectable since his £32.5 million transfer from Aston Villa, but he has looked ill-fitting to Klopp’s high-octane style.
Indeed, the best performances under Klopp have come without the powerful striker present. That was certainly true in the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup when Divock Origi bagged a hat-trick and Daniel Sturridge scored twice in a 6-1 win over Southampton. Both, though, will be absent on Tuesday. Klopp would surely love to call upon Sturridge, in particular, on a regular basis, but the England striker, who has been plagued by injuries over the past 16 months, is still recovering his fitness after his latest setback.
“Daniel has had some problems in these weeks -- not serious but then he couldn't train or make the next session,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Monday. “He hasn’t had a row of sessions.
“I'll be the first one to pick him when he's ready. I would never hold him back. In this moment because he didn’t have one session with the team, he’s not available. It would be easy for me to say, come on, let's try, we have problems, we don't score enough goals, but we have to be patient.”
Also missing on Tuesday will be captain Jordan Henderson, who remains sidelined with a foot injury picked up on the Boxing Day victory over Leicester City.
Without him, Liverpool will be going up against a side that has been equally inconsistent in recent weeks. Helped by their star trio of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, Stoke dazzled in victories over Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton last month. Yet they have also lost at home to Crystal Palace, and on Saturday at West Brom. That latest defeat came after their versatile United States international Geoff Cameron was sent off for striking out at West Brom’s Claudio Yacob. To some surprise, though, Cameron will be available on Tuesday, after Stoke’s appeal of his red card proved successful.
And Hughes has expressed confidence that his side can bounce back from their weekend setback and return to their previous form over the festive period.
“We can’t be too disappointed though, because looking at things in perspective those lads produced two superb performances in a matter of days against Manchester United and Everton and picked up six points,” he said, according to Stoke City’s official website.
“For us, I would suggest that this is a good time to be playing Liverpool at home because we are looking for a major reaction, and more often than not, on the back of disappointing performances, we bounce back strongly.”
Prediction: Stoke have been one of the most entertaining sides in the Premier League of late and, with Liverpool also having the potential to shine, there could be plenty to thrill at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday. Much depends on whether Liverpool can manage the intensity to thwart the creative threat of Arnautovic, Bojan and Shaqiri, and if Philippe Coutinho can rediscover his mojo for Klopp’s men. But with Liverpool poor away from home in recent weeks and looking leggy on Saturday, Stoke may get a narrow lead to take to Anfield.
Predicted score: Stoke City 2-1 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect