Liverpool beat Leicester on penalties after Carabao Cup quarter-final thriller

Liverpool beat Leicester on penalties after Carabao Cup quarter-final thriller

Jurgen Klopp will fret over squeezing a two-legged semi-final with Arsenal into Liverpool’s already demanding schedule but, for a fleeting moment at least, the Carabao Cup brought him joy at Anfield.

A rousing fightback and penalty shootout victory against Leicester underlined that, while the faces may change, Liverpool’s indefatigable spirit does not waver.

Liverpool came from 2-0 down and 3-1 down to take an enthralling quarter-final to penalties courtesy of a 95th‑minute equaliser from Takumi Minamino. The Japan international missed the chance for a perfect night by blazing Liverpool’s fifth and potentially decisive spot-kick over the bar. But no other teammate faltered.

Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher saved from Luke Thomas and in sudden-death from Ryan Bertrand. Diogo Jota drilled his team’s sixth penalty past Kasper Schmeichel’s right hand and Klopp’s unfamiliar team were in the unfamiliar territory of a domestic cup semi-final.

For Leicester, however this was a glorious opportunity squandered. The visitors were comfortably in the ascendency at half-time after two Jamie Vardy strikes and a stunning effort from James Maddison. But injuries to Ricardo Pereira and Caglar Soyuncu, forcing their departures from a depleted defence, prompted a reshuffle from Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool eventually capitalised on Leicester’s weary retreat. Jota was instrumental in the recovery, so too Naby Keita, two of the second-half changes from Klopp that helped to transform the tie.

“We had to change the structure of the team in the second half because of the injuries,” said the Leicester manager, who was unable to call on Vardy in the shootout as his goalscorer was nursing a hamstring problem. “In the first half we were excellent, scored three goals at Anfield and should have had four or five. Defensively you know you are going to suffer at times but it looked like we were just going to get through, so to concede in the 95th minute is so disappointing after everything the players put in.”

Klopp handed a first senior start to the French central defender Billy Koumetio and included fellow teenagers Tyler Morton and Conor Bradley in a lineup that featured 10 changes to the starting XI at Tottenham on Sunday. All three were replaced at half‑time. Rodgers went much stronger, despite the Covid issues that had forced the postponement of Leicester’s past two Premier League games against Spurs and Everton. He was repaid with an incisive first‑half performance that should have produced a healthier lead against an uncertain Liverpool defence.

Patson Daka cut through from Leicester’s first attack, forcing Kelleher to save at his near post following a careless pass from Joe Gomez. Moments later Kostas Tsimikas gave possession away cheaply and left his full-back position exposed. Boubakary Soumaré exchanged passes with Pereira before finding Maddison. The midfielder released Vardy with a delightful first-time ball and the veteran struck a clean, low finish beyond Kelleher.

Vardy did not have to wait long to add to his 10th goal of the season. Leicester again attacked with speed and precision when Neco Williams lost possession to the impressive Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. He found Daka in space on the left and, as Koumetio closed down, the striker threaded a perfect ball behind the Liverpool defence for Vardy to convert from close range.

Tsimikas made amends for his error when creating Liverpool’s swift response through Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Greece international flicked the ball over the head of Pereira, who was injured by a poor early foul from Morton and eventually forced off, and crossed for Williams to head into Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s centre-forward found the midfielder on the edge of the area and Oxlade‑Chamberlain swept a fine shot into Schmeichel’s bottom right-hand corner.

Leicester claimed their third in style. Maddison got a fortunate bounce of the ball when, collecting a pass from Dewsbury-Hall, he rode a challenge from Oxlade-Chamberlain. There was nothing fortuitous about the shot that followed. Glancing up from 25 yards out, the midfielder connected superbly to find the roof of the net. It was a sweet, powerful effort but also straight down the middle of Kelleher’s goal, and the keeper’s reaction suggested he knew he should have done better.

Vardy almost made it four before the break when Gomez let a routine pass from Morton slip by. The Leicester forward pounced and, despite beating Kelleher once again, his low shot cannoned off the inside of the far post before being cleared by Gomez.

Klopp injected greater experience into his team with a triple half‑time substitution and the recovery gathered pace when Jota beat Schmeichel with a clinical finish from Minamino’s touch. Leicester appeared to have survived when Schmeichel tipped over a flying Jota header but, in the dying seconds, Wilfred Ndidi missed his header from James Milner’s cross and Minamino swept the equaliser into the bottom corner. Cue penalties and a place in the semi-finals.