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Lurching Liverpool eye League Cup final spot

25 January 2016, 12:07

London - 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.

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)

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