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Now that we're at the semi-final stage, WhoScored is finally collecting stats in this competition.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
Two sides that fully canceled each other out. Or, should have, had one of the linesman actually done his job. A match that was high in intensity and low on quality. A match that featured an absolutely garbage attacking performance from both sides, although some credit is due to the defenses, with Liverpool's attacking issues both familiar and frustrating.
Who cares? Liverpool are going to Wembley.
Liverpool were Liverpool, Stoke were Stoke (and more Tony Pulis' Stoke than Mark Hughes' Stoke), and a second leg semi-final was a second leg semi-final. Hard-fought and closely-matched, and not especially fun to watch, for either supporters or neutrals.
Almost the same side which scored five on Saturday probably wouldn't have scored in this match were it still going. Just 12 shots in 120 minutes. Just three inside the box. Just one in the Danger Zone. Just two on-target, both from Roberto Firmino. Just one marginally threatening: one of those Firmino shots, from Henderson's layoff on a set play, saved onto the post by Butland.
That's not good. That's really, really not good. Liverpool's attack hasn't been good in most matches under Klopp (or Rodgers, for that matter), but I'm still struggling to think of a less impressive performance. Maybe the 0-2 loss at Newcastle, where Liverpool took just 10 shots and put just one on-target – Lovren in the last minute – but even then, half of those shots came inside the box and Liverpool had a perfectly good (in fact, great) goal from Moreno wrongly ruled out.
It wasn't Liverpool's finishing which nearly cost the side, as is more often the case, but Liverpool's ability to create, Liverpool's decision-making, and Liverpool's shot selection. Stoke defended deep and defended well, but nine of 12 shots coming from outside the box – including all four before Stoke's goal – also demonstrates Liverpool's priority on defense. Or, at least, lack of prioritizing the attack. Take the speculative shot and maybe you'll get lucky, but more importantly, make sure you're in place to press then get back and defend.
Still, that wouldn't have mattered had the linesman done his job just before halftime. Sure, Liverpool still conceded from the first shot on-target – yes, again – but otherwise, it was a reasonably competent display in defense. Liverpool coped with Stoke's set plays, Liverpool coped with Stoke's crosses and long balls, Liverpool coped with Crouch's height.
Mark Hughes had obviously watched Liverpool's matches since the last meeting, starting Peter Crouch for just the fifth time this season – all in cup competition – to unsettle Liverpool's defense with height, crosses, set plays, and hoofs, with Jon Walters also coming into the side to muscle defenders and offer an option running in behind. But Liverpool's back line (which kept a surprisingly high line) did enough, winning the second ball if not the aerial duel enough, and blocking enough dangerous efforts (Sakho, most notably on Walters in the 55th minute, but also on Walters in the 62nd and Crouch in the 114th) when they didn't.
Stoke created just four shots from set plays: two very off-target headers from Bojan and Crouch, and two very off-target shots from distance by Johnson and Afellay.
And, again, that first Stoke shot on-target was very offside, and that was the one lovely attacking move of the match. For either side. Stoke had two other good chances: a hoof over the high back line to Walters in the first half, pushed wide of the far post, and van Ginkel's scramble through the middle in extra time off the woodwork – the second, after the "goal," of Stoke's two clear-cut chances. Liverpool, unsurprisingly, created none.
Then, Liverpool's rightfully criticized goalkeeper saved two Stoke penalties, while six of Liverpool's seven players kept their nerves (and Can's penalty didn't miss by much). Jack Butland, who has been one of the best keepers in the league this season, didn't get a hand to any of Liverpool's spot kicks, and went the wrong way on six of the seven; Mignolet saved two and nearly saved another, guessing the right way on five. Shoot-outs are weird.
But Liverpool have precedent here. Liverpool have now won 14 of the 17 shoot-outs they've been involved in, a record going back to 1974. And two of those losses have been in the last six years: against Northampton Town and Besiktas. That's remarkable. Unbelievable. And probably more than a little bit lucky. But winning begets winning.
If Liverpool play like that in most matches, Liverpool won't win most matches: slightly better than usual in defense, but very, very bad in attack. But this wasn't most matches. This was a knife-edge cup semifinal and Liverpool, despite losing on the day, still won.
And winning begets winning. And winning begets Wembley.