Can Liverpool be the semi final comeback kings again?

Tonight’s League Cup semi final second leg against Southampton is absolutely huge for a multitude of reasons. There’s the prospect of a Wembley final against HIM and THEM for starters (even the eternal optimist in me doesn’t give Hull a prayer!)

Then there’s the small matter of sliverware at stake. It’s 5 years since we won a trophy, and Kenny’s Wembley win over Cardiff City in 2012 in this competition represents our only silverware in 11 years.

Some of this squad were part of the title near miss in 2014, while under Klopp we lost 2 finals last season, a monkey the boss will be keen to get off his own back asap. While we’re undoubtedly progressing, this team needs to experience the feeling of getting over the line and winning something.

And given our recent run, we need a big result and performance to restore the optimism of a few weeks ago turn the doubters back into believers once again. Beating the Saints to reach Wembley would do the trick.

On a personal level, it’s 30 years next month since my dad took me to Anfield for the first time. That too was a semi final second leg against Southampton and a 3-0 win saw us reach the final of the then Littlewoods Cup. Oh and Kenny Dalglish got on the scoresheet – not bad for your first game!

One thing is for sure; history is on our side when it comes to overturning semi final first leg deficits at Anfield. Five times this century the Reds have lost the away leg of a cup semi final – 4 times we’ve turned things around at Anfield to reach the final. 

The only blot on that record was in the 2010 Europa League against Atletico Madrid, a tie played in the dying throes of the Rafa Benitez era when a 2-1 win wasn’t enough to prevent us going out on away goals.

You only have to go back to last April for the last time the Reds turned around a semi final deficit as Klopp’s men, trailing Villarreal 1-0 in the last 4 of the Europa League, blew the Spanish side away in an emotional second leg in L4.

Knowing exactly what we need to do seems to benefit us massively in these games. Contrast Villarreal to last season’s other semi final, where we lost a nervy home leg 1-0 to Stoke having won the away leg in the “Brexit capital of England” (not my words!) by the same score. 

It was a similar story in the semis the last time we won the League Cup; a 1-0 win at Man City was followed by a 2-2 draw in the return, with the Reds having to come from behind twice to earn a place at Wembley.

Gerard Houllier won this competition twice, the only Liverpool manager other than Bob Paisley to do so, and on both occasions we secured our place in Cardiff after overturning a first leg deficit. In 2001, Crystal Palace won the first leg 2-1 and Palace striker Clinton Morrison was somewhat overconfident in his post match comments! 

He soon ate his words as the Reds raced into a 3-0 lead inside 18 minutes of the second leg at Anfield, eventually running out 5-0 winners, wth Morrison shown no mercy by the Kop! The subsequent final win against Birmingham was our first trophy for 6 years and became the first part of the unprecedented cup treble we won that season.

2 years later and things were far more tense. Once again the Reds had a 2-1 scoreline to overturn having been beaten by Sheffield United on a horrible, moody night at Bramall Lane. El Hadji Diouf scored early on in the return game to level the tie, one of the few things of note the most loathsome individual ever represent Liverpool FC did in a red shirt, before the tie went to extra time. 

A 1-0 win would have eventually seen us through on away goals, but Michael Owen added a second in the second period of extra time to make absolutely sure. Neil Warnock took the defeat with the typical good grace he’s been renowned for down the years, with his complaints including accusing Stephane Henchoz of spitting.

Perhaps our most memorable overturning of a first leg deficit in recent times came a decade ago in the Champions League. A Joe Cole goal gave Chelsea a first leg advantage in a repeat of the 2005 semi, but an early Daniel Agger strike from a cleverly worked free kick levelled the tie. 

If the memorable 2005 win was a rearguard action, this was a different story as the Reds took the game to Chelsea and were the better side. Dirk Kuyt had a goal disallowed in extra time, but the Dutchman made up for it by netting the winning penalty in the shoot out to send the us to Athens and a rematch with AC Milan.

Mourinho had been sent packing for a third successive season. If the Reds can keep up our remarkable knack of turning these semi final deficits around on Wednesday, and barring a miracle on Humberside 24 hours later, we’ll get another chance to do so at Wembley next month!

Written by @Pilnick_Jimmy

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