Following the fifth round of the 2015/16 League Cup, the draw for the tournament's semi-finals seemed to set up a natural championship rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp's Anfield squad crushed Southampton 6-1 in the quarterfinals, earning an easy berth in the semis. Manchester City, meanwhile, beat Hull City 4-1 to earn their semi-final spot. At the time, the Sky Blues were also enjoying a position at the top of the Premier League: they seemed like clear frontrunners to win the entire League Cup.
A Surprising Loss
As the first legs of the League Cup semi-finals were played on January 5th and 6th, though, it became clear that the predicted Liverpool-Manchester City final might not be as set in stone as we might have thought. Man City, drawn against Everton for the semis, actually lost the first leg of the round 1-2.
The Sky Blues have been a bit less magnificent than usual over the past few weeks. They lost a match to Arsenal just before Christmas and settled for a scoreless draw with Leicester City during the holiday festive period. Still, the football club was expected to win this match. Everton hadn't won a match against Manchester City in nearly three years. Even with the home field advantage, Everton's Toffees weren't favored, having lost at home against Man City 0-2 earlier in the season.
By most accounts, the Sky Blues were the better team on the soccer pitch. Manchester's visiting squad edged out the hosts in terms of position, took more shots, and completed more passes. Everton were more accurate with their shots, though, taking the lead just before halftime (thanks to a goal from Jose Ramiro Funes Mori) to put the pressure on Man City.
Manchester responded in the second half, equalizing with a 76-minute score by Jesus Navas, off an assist from Sergio Aguero. Just two minutes later, though, Everton's star and not-so-secret weapon, Romelu Lukaku, struck to take back the lead. The Sky Blues never recovered.
Lukaku has been immensely impressive this season, with that game-winning shot being his 19th overall goal of the 2015/16 campaign. If Everton manage to land a spot in the League Cup finals, he will be the reason.
Still, Manchester City are only one point behind in the aggregate for the round-a deficit they could easily make up in the second leg. The January 27th match will see the Sky Blues donning the Manchester City home jersey 2015/16 and taking the pitch at their own Etihad Stadium. The home field advantage should help to turn the tide for the football club, who haven't lost to Everton on their own turf since 2010.
Liverpool vs. Stoke City
Things went slightly better for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool squad in semi-final leg one-though the Reds could still be vulnerable in game two. Playing away at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium, the injury-ridden Liverpool side managed to hold off their opposition to win 1-0. The lone goal of the match came at the 37-minute mark, from the toe of Jordan Ibe. The 20-year-old midfielder has been a go-to substitute for Liverpool this season, and this goal illustrates the reason. While still young, Ibe could be a cornerstone of the Anfield lineup someday soon. Perhaps, after this key game-winner, Klopp will even see fit to put the youngster in his starting lineup.
The goal from Ibe was the only ray of sunshine for the Reds on Tuesday afternoon, though. Already troubled with injuries and sidelined players, Liverpool's outlook got even more dismal during the League Cup semi-final match. Key midfielder Philippe Coutinho and defender Dejan Lovren both exited the game in the first half with hamstring injuries while Kolo Toure-who has been plagued with his own hamstring injuries this season-looked hurt when he left the field at the end of the game.
Liverpool have the home field advantage for their next League Cup leg, which will take place on January 26th. To win that game, though, Klopp will either have to figure out a way to rest his squad or start spending in the transfer market to pick up reinforcements.
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