Liverpool are through to the Carabao Cup semi-finals after edging Leicester 5-4 in a penalty shootout having overturned a two-goal deficit in a gripping 3-3 draw.
Caoimhin Kelleher saved two Leicester penalties before Diogo Jota – a key figure off the bench – converted the crucial kick to send Jurgen Klopp’s much-changed Reds through.
A Vardy brace had initially put the visitors 2-0 up early on at Anfield, and although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got Liverpool on the scoreboard, a spectacular Maddison strike had Leicester cruising at the break.
But half-time substitute Jota reduced the deficit again after the hour and Takumi Minamino equalised deep into stoppage time to force a shootout.
Minamino was the sole Red to miss his kick, but it mattered not as Kelleher denied Luke Thomas and Ryan Bertrand to allow Jota to wrap things up.
It had all looked so promising for Leicester when Vardy had them two up in the 13th minute, finishing off incisive passes from Maddison and then Patson Daka.
The Reds quickly pulled one back, Oxlade-Chamberlain slamming home from 18 yards after being teed up by Roberto Firmino.
But Maddison soon restored Leicester’s two-goal cushion, blasting past Kelleher from distance as the ball sat up kindly.
Vardy then hit the post in a one-on-one situation.
A seemingly perturbed Klopp made three changes at the break, and one of them paid dividends as Jota fired beyond Kasper Schmeichel, setting up a tense final 20 minutes.
Minamino struck a dramatic equaliser right at the end and would have sealed the win had he not hit the crossbar with his effort in the following shootout, but Kelleher and then Jota spared his blushes to send Liverpool through.
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Liverpool’s record in this competition has not been great in recent years, but they overcame that with a real show of character here.
Their semi-final tussle with Arsenal early next year will be their first appearance in the last four of the EFL Cup since 2016-17 and boosts their hopes of winning silverware before the end of the season.
Granted, Liverpool will have their sights on loftier prizes, but it is always good to be in the conversation for trophies.
Jota the catalyst
Vardy was on fire in the first half, but Jota’s introduction at the break for Liverpool proved inspirational.
Not only did he get the goal that provided a spark of hope, but he went close with another effort and then held his nerve for the crucial penalty.
Klopp gave him a huge embrace at full-time, highlighting just how important the Portugal forward was.
Shock to the system for Koumetio
Young centre-back Billy Koumetio was making his first start for the senior side but he endured a difficult 45 minutes before being withdrawn.
The Reds’ backline was not helped by a lack of midfield protection, but Koumetio routinely struggled to get close enough to Daka and Vardy, who ran riot before half-time.
Liverpool will face Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup next year but both teams now turn their attentions back to the Premier League, with Leicester going to Manchester City shortly after Liverpool host Leeds on Boxing Day.
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