Simon Mignolet produced a decisive spot-kick save from Marc Muniesa as Liverpool edged Stoke City 6-5 on penalties at Anfield on Tuesday to reach the League Cup final.
After Marko Arnautovic had cancelled out Liverpool’s 1-0 aggregate lead with a goal that seemed to have been scored from an offside position, the game went to extra time and then penalties, and with Mignolet thwarting Muniesa, it was left to Joe Allen to net the decisive spot-kick.
Following some slapdash recent displays, it was a much-needed breakthrough for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, appointed in October, whose side will face either Manchester City or Merseyside rivals Everton in the final on February 28.
It will be Liverpool’s first major final since 2012, when they won the last of their eight League Cups and lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Mark Hughes’s Stoke had eliminated holders Chelsea in round four, but despite recording a first win inside 90 minutes at Anfield since March 1959, they were unable to secure a place in what would have been their first League Cup final since they won the tournament in 1972.
It took until the first minute of extra time for Liverpool to register a shot on target from open play, Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland saving a toe-poke from Roberto Firmino.
But Stoke substitute Marco van Ginkel twice went closer, and each time from Peter Crouch flick-ons, first scuffing a shot against the right-hand post and then testing Mignolet with a volley.
With Liverpool substitute Jordon Ibe skewing a shot over late on, the game went to penalties and after each side had squandered a spot-kick – Mignolet saving from Crouch, Emre Can hitting the post – it went to sudden death.
Van Ginkel and Lucas Leiva scored, but Mignolet – maligned for some shaky recent performances – plunged to his left to parry Muniesa’s spot-kick and Allen stepped up to settle the semifinal by planting the ball into the top-right corner.