Diogo Jota secured Liverpool’s place in the Carabao Cup semi-finals after an exciting fight and a penalty shootout win over Leicester.
Brendan Rodgers has never won at Anfield since he left the club six years ago and Leicester has not won here since 2000. They may never get a better chance.
The guests were relieved to go up after two goals from Jamie Vardy and a stunning effort from James Madison gave them a 3-1 lead in the first half. But Liverpool’s firm response, led by substitute Jota, and completed by Takumi Minamino’s goal in stoppage time, changed the quarter-finals in the second half and ensured its decision with penalty kicks.
Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Kaomen Kelleher twice saved from Luke Thomas and Ryan Bertrand. Minamino shined on what would have been the penalty kick for the hosts, but after Bertrand’s poor attempt, Jota punished Leicester once again.
The approach taken by the former and current Liverpool managers had an early impact on the confrontation and on the threat posed by their team in particular. Liverpool’s mistakes in preparing for two goals from Vardy in four minutes also contributed to the sad smile on Klopp’s face.
Klopp gave Billy Comitio his first big break and included young French defender Tyler Morton and Conor Bradley in a ten-changer squad on Sunday at Tottenham. Even without the positive Covid tests ruling out Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Curtis Jones, it was a choice that was to be expected from the Liverpool boss given the circumstances, the upcoming schedule and where the Carabao Cup appears on his priority list. Rodgers has gone much stronger, despite Covid issues that have forced Leicester to postpone their last two Premier League games against Tottenham and Everton. He was rewarded with a breakthrough performance that should have led to a better first-half lead against an uncertain Liverpool defence.
Leicester broke through their first attack. He was induced, along with several others, by Liverpool’s misguided pass. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall intercepted Joe Gomez’s ball thrown outside the defense and sent Batson Dhaka to run away from the England international. Keeler, who was standing next to Alison, stood up to save his nearby position. But he was easily beaten when the visitors raided again. This time, Kostas Tsimikas gave up the ball on the cheap, finding Boubkari Somare in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as he tried to break the wing, leaving the full-back poorly exposed. Somare exchanged passes with Ricardo Pereira before finding Madison. Midfielder Vardy fired an exhilarating shot for the first time and the veteran fired a clean, low shot past Keeler into the far corner.
Vardy didn’t have to wait long to add to his 10th goal of the season. Leicester attacked again with speed and precision when Nico Williams lost the ball to Dewsbury Hall. He found Dhaka into the space on the left for the second time, and when Komeito blocked the space, the striker sent a perfect ball behind Liverpool’s defense to Vardy unmarked to turn a convincing finish into Keeler from close range.
Tsimikas made up for his costly mistake when he created Liverpool’s quick response through Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Greece international threw the ball over the head of Pereira, who was hit by an early foul by Morton and eventually had to go out, and crossed deep for Williams to get into Roberto Firmino’s path. The physique Liverpool striker once again responded to the midfielder’s pleas to pass him to the edge of the penalty area and Oxlade Chamberlain fired a superb shot into Kasper Schmeichel’s lower right corner.
The competition was wide open. The impressive Dewsbury-Hall denied Takumi Minamino inside the area with a solid challenge after Firmino sent off Sumare and sent the Japan international into goal. Vardy created his hat-trick when he broke into Liverpool’s soft defensive heart. Only the vigil of Morton, who turned off the attacker and drew a foul, stopped him. But seconds later, Leicester finished third. Madison had a lucky bounce for the ball when he got a pass from Dewsbury-Hall, and rode a challenge from Oxlade-Chamberlain. There was nothing serendipitous about the shot that followed. Peeking at 25 yards, the midfielder made great call to find the net ceiling from a distance. It was a great effort, powerful but also in the middle of Keeler’s goal, and the goalkeeper’s reaction was that he knew he should have done better.
Vardy nearly hit four goals before the break when Gomez, in his first start since the fourth round win over Preston on October 27, let a routine pass from Morton slip away. The Leicester striker jumped in an instant, and although he beat Keeler again, his low shot hit the inside of the far post before it was cashed out by Gomez.
Klopp has injected more experience into his squad by substituting him three times in the first half, and the Liverpool affair has also helped to hurt an already exhausted visiting defence. Caglar Soyuncu joined Pereira on the injury list after stretching to block Firmino’s shot. His replacement in what was now a five-man Leicester goalkeeper, Yannick Westergaard, brought nothing of the same power.
Jota, one of the three forwards in the second half, lifted Anfield with a clinical shot beyond Schmeichel when Minamino fired it behind the Leicester defence. He had another opportunity to save him in a stampede in the goal and an instinctive header from Naby Keita that was saved by Schmeichel before Minamino saved the penalty shootout. There were six minutes of injury time when James Milner sent a deep cross into the Leicester area. Wilfried Ndidi missed the clearing header and Minamino missed his half shot.