The field is still strong going into the last eight but Liverpool will still see the Carling Cup as an opportunity for a further step in their rebuilding programme under Kenny Dalglish after two goals from Luis Suarez ended Stoke's interest.
Dalglish's side trailed at half-time after Kenwyne Jones had headed the home side in front somewhat against the run of play but Suarez levelled with an exquisite curling shot soon after the restart and claimed the winner with his head five minutes from the end.
Both goals were exceptional, capping a superb performance by the Uruguayan to which Dalglish admitted he could not do justice in anything he said by way of compliments. "I ran out of words to describe him a week after he arrived at our place," he said. "The first one tonight was a fantastic goal, but then you wouldn't expect him to score with a tap-in, would you?"
The more eloquent evaluation came from Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, whose disappointment did not preclude him singing the match winner's praises. "There are three players in the Premier League – [Sergio] Aguero and [David] Silva at Manchester City, and this fellow – who would grace any team in the world," Pulis said. "He is a special player."
Pulis was honest enough, too, to admit that Stoke's half-time lead "was generous to us". Dalglish left out eight of those who started the 1-1 draw with Norwich last weekend, yet no player was busier than the Stoke goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen, as Liverpool created enough opportunities to have reached half-time with one foot in the quarter-finals.
By fielding both Suarez and Andy Carroll in attack, Dalglish emphasised his interest in seeing Liverpool win this competition for an eighth time and provide him with the first silverware of his second stint as manager. All the more frustrating, then, for Dalglish that it was the home side who edged in front just before half-time after an error by the Uruguayan defender, Sebastian Coates, allowed Jonathan Walters to send in a cross that Jones steered past Pepe Reina with a neat, diving header.
Sorensen saved two shots from Carroll, blocked bravely at the feet of Suarez and kept out a low drive from Jordan Henderson at the foot of his left-hand post. Liverpool's dominance lacked only goals.
Happily for Dalglish, if Carroll's finishing still needs fine tuning, the same cannot be said of Suarez, who delivered a sublime equaliser nine minutes after the restart, collecting the ball near the left touchline, nutmegging Ryan Shotton and then beating Sorensen with a beautifully struck shot from outside the penalty area that evaded the keeper's outstretched hands before curling in at the far post.
Five minutes from time, he proved his quality for a second time, cleverly ghosting on to the blind side of Ryan Shawcross to meet Henderson's cross with a decisive header to move Liverpool into the next round.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Woodgate, Wilson; Shotton (Pennant, 60), Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Jerome, 64); Jones (Crouch, 88), Walters. Substitutes not used Nash (gk), Diao, Upson, Palacios.
Liverpool (4-1-3-2): Reina; Kelly, Carragher (Skrtel, 46), Coates, Agger; Lucas; Henderson, Spearing, Rodriguez (Bellamy, 82); Suarez (Kuyt, 88), Carroll. Substitutes not used Doni, Aurelio, Adam, Flanagan.
Referee L Probert (Staffordshire).