Lurching Liverpool eye League Cup final spot

Zigzagging across the road like a clown car they may be, but Liverpool are also just 90 minutes from Wembley ahead of Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg against Stoke City.

A team that recorded seven 1-1 draws in nine games in September and October is beginning to gain a reputation for slapdash spectaculars, following the recent 3-3 draw at home to Arsenal and Saturday’s remarkable 5-4 victory at Norwich City.

It has made Jurgen Klopp’s side a breathless watch, but with a 1-0 lead to protect at Anfield on Tuesday, Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva knows that it is imperative his team tighten up at the back.

“If we can score five goals and defend set-pieces especially a little bit better, we would be winning games more comfortably,” he told the Liverpool website after the victory at Carrow Road.

“But it will give us a lot of belief. On Tuesday we have a very big game, a semi-final and a chance to go to Wembley. We will do everything we can to get there.

“It’s one of the biggest games of the season until now and a good chance for us to go to Wembley. We don’t need any more motivation.

“We will recover and for sure everyone will be 100 percent, mentally and physically, for Tuesday.”

A draw will suffice for Liverpool to reach a first major final since 2012, when they won the League Cup and lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, after Jordon Ibe’s first-half goal settled the first leg on January 5.

With Everton leading Manchester City 2-1 in the other semi-final, there is the prospect of a first Merseyside derby in a major final since the deciding match of the 1988-89 FA Cup, which Liverpool won 3-2.

But Liverpool’s fans cannot know which version of their team will show up — the slick, counter-punching side that won 3-1 at Chelsea, 4-1 at City and 6-1 at Southampton, or the meekly surrendering one beaten in recent weeks by West Ham United, Watford and Newcastle United.

– Shawcross doubt –

Injuries to Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel mean that Klopp must continue to depend on the unconvincing centre-back partnership of Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure, which was badly exposed at Norwich.

But Adam Lallana could return to the starting XI after rising from the bench to lash home the 95th-minute winner at Carrow Road.

Stoke went into the first leg on the back of impressive victories over Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton, but their form has tapered off somewhat since the turn of the year and they were beaten 3-0 at Leicester City on Saturday.

Injuries have also started to bite, with captain Ryan Shawcross a doubt for the trip to Anfield after suffering a recurrence of a back problem at Leicester.

However, their attacking trident should be realigned after Xherdan Shaqiri made a successful return from a hamstring problem at the King Power Stadium while Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic were being rested.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes, seeking to steer the club to their first League Cup final since they won the tournament in 1972, said the loss to Leicester was “one of those days to forget”.

“We needed to be better, but we’ll be looking to bounce back quickly,” he added.

“We have managed to do that more often than not. We have a huge game on Tuesday and I expect my team to respond very quickly.”

Everton and Manchester City meet at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday with the visitors in pole position after goals from Ramiro Funes Mori and Romelu Lukaku secured a 2-1 first-leg win at Goodison Park.

Sergio Aguero scored twice as City drew 2-2 at West Ham United on Saturday, while Everton lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City on Sunday.

Fixtures (aggregate score in brackets)

Tuesday (1945 GMT):

Liverpool v Stoke City (1-0)

Wednesday (1945 GMT):

Manchester City v Everton (1-2)

Photo Credits : AFP

Tottenham to face Chelsea in League Cup final

Two moments of magic from Christian Eriksen helped Tottenham Hotspur reach the final of the League Cup with a 3-2 aggregate victory over resilient League One club Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Dane Eriksen’s sublime first-half free-kick put Maurico Pochettino’s team 1-0 up on the night and they looked to be in cruise control before two goals in as many minutes from 18-year-old substitute Che Adams levelled the tie overall.

But a calm finish from Eriksen with three minutes left meant the Premier League side prevailed without the need for extra-time.

With most of the 30,236 supporters roaring on the home team at a Bramall Lane lashed by wintry showers, it was the sort of night to expose any flaws in character and Tottenham only just survived.

Their reward is a meeting with Chelsea in the final on March 1, Spurs’ first Wembley final since 2009, and a chance to win the League Cup for a fifth time.

Sheffield United will point to marginal moments that mounted up and cost them the tie and, before Eriksen’s opener, they might have taken the lead and levelled the aggregate score.

Michel Vorm’s late error led to Tottenham’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City on Saturday and the goalkeeper endured another uncomfortable moment as the Blades made a bright start.

The Netherlands international, under pressure from Marc McNulty, spilt Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s cross and McNulty prodded the ball to Jamie Murphy, only for the winger to see his shot blocked on the line by Kyle Walker, Tottenham’s Sheffield-born defender.

Tottenham’s defeat came on the same day that Chelsea were stunned 4-2 by League One side Bradford City and Manchester City lost 2-0 against Middlesbrough, of the Championship.

Nigel Clough, the Sheffield United manager, has criticised top-flight teams for deprioritising the FA Cup and League Cups and he is in a position to judge.

This was only his second defeat in 20 FA or League Cup fixtures with the South Yorkshire club.

The Blades beat Southampton in the last round and have beaten fellow Premier League clubs West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup this season.

Even given their impressive record in knockout competitions, Sheffield United knew it they faced an uphill task to reach Wembley for a second time in two seasons, having reached the FA Cup semi-final last season.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Clough had spoken of the need to prevent the Premier League side from scoring but, faced with Eriksen’s quality that is easier said than done.

A momentary lapse in concentration from Jay McEveley cost Sheffield United in the first leg, with the defender conceding a penalty for handball. This time it was Bob Harris who gave Tottenham a helping hand.

His poor clearance allowed Tottenham to break. Michael Doyle fouled Benjamin Stambouli and Eriksen whipped in a magical free kick to score his ninth goal of the season.

It left the home team needing three goals to progress and it looked like a smooth ride into the final for Tottenham until the introduction of Adams as a substitute.

Within five minutes of coming on, the teenager had scored his first two goals in professional football to stun Tottenham

First, he met Ryan Flynn’s cross to fire the ball beyond Vorm to give the home fans hope. Two minutes later, Adams converted Jamie Murphy’s cross to give the supporters something to really shout about.

With the aggregate score at 2-2, the match was heading for extra time but another moment of magic from Eriksen eased Tottenham’s worries.

The 22-year-old former Ajax midfielder latched on to Kane’s through ball and clipped a delightful finish beyond Howard and into the bottom corner.

Photo Credits : AFP