Dismal Liverpool lack fight as Southampton left to rue misses despite first leg victory
If Liverpool want the first trophy of the Jurgen Klopp era soon they will have to play better than this. This League Cup semi-final leg at Southampton should have put them one step towards Wembley but they blew it, barely showing up and getting lucky that they were only beaten 1-0 by Southampton.
There is a second leg to play at Anfield on 25 January and Klopp’s team are still in with a puncher’s chance of making the final. But this was a huge failing, a dismal no-show, as they could not summon any of the intensity, speed or imagination that has made them such a threat in the Premier League this year.
Southampton have had an awful time recently, with three straight league defeats and fans starting to turn on Claude Puel. But here they looked far more motivated than Liverpool, and played with more energy and efficiency. Nathan Redmond scored the only goal after 20 minutes but in truth he should have scored three in a first-half in which Liverpool fell apart every time Saints attacked.
It was Loris Karius, of all people, who kept Liverpool in the game, but even he could not make up for the fact Liverpool created almost nothing going forward. They had no speed in their play and no ideas. Even bringing on Philippe Coutinho in the second half, after almost two months out, did not improve them enough. Of course Liverpool play Manchester United on Sunday, an even bigger game than this. They may have been preserving energy, or avoiding injury, as they neglected to give this game everything they have.
With no Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho or Jordan Henderson in the starting line-up, Liverpool missed their usual zip. The midfield was ponderous, the movement predictable, and for all their sterile possession, there was no cutting edge. The first-half was the antithesis of a good Jurgen Klopp performance.
It was Southampton who had the edge, who knew how to be dangerous without seeing too much of the ball. Claude Puel’s side have looked very ordinary recently, with no obvious style, and yet last night they raised themselves to the occasion far quicker than Liverpool. Saints were so sharp on the break that they looked like a Klopp side, and Liverpool did not know how to handle it.
Roberto Firmino had forced a simple save from Fraser Forster, Liverpool’s only first-half chance, when Saints broke so well it was a warning. Cedric Soares crossed from the right, Nathan Redmond found space at the far post and should have scored. Loris Karius reacted fast enough to keep it out.
One minute later, Saints had their lead, after another lightning break that left Liverpool dreadfully exposed as they tried to play an off-side trap. Dusan Tadic played a forward pass and Ragnar Klavan could not adjust his feet to clear it. The ball went through to Jay Rodriguez who teed up Redmond. This time he made no mistake and put Saints ahead.
Just before the break Saints cut Liverpool open one more time. Ryan Bertrand found Dusan Tadic, who darted in a clever low cross. Again, Redmond picked it up, but from close range he could not beat Karius. He might have had a hat-trick, but only had one, and Saints were just 1-0 up at the break.
Liverpool needed to improve in the second half but they did nothing in the first 15 minutes to suggest that they would. That was when Klopp finally brought on Coutinho for his first appearance since 26 November. He came on for Gini Wijnaldum, with Adam Lallana moving back into the midfield three.
Coutinho gave Liverpool an instant lift, skipping away from tackles, but still Saints threatened on the break, Cedric shooting into the side-netting after a great Redmond run.
Even in the final minutes, Redmond was still Saints’ most dangerous player. He could have extended their lead with eight minutes left, reaching substitute Shane Long’s cross, chipping Karius, only for Dejan Lovren to block it on the line. Southampton, ultimately, should have won this game by four or five. There was no real siege, no real fight from Liverpool, and despite the scoreline it is the winners who left with as many regrets as the losers.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Forster; Cedric, Yoshida, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Romeu, Clasie (Hojbjerg, 73); Redmond, Davis (Ward-Prowse, 81), Tadic Rodriguez (Long, 81)
Liverpool (4-3-3): Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Wijnaldum (Coutinho, 61), Lucas, Can; Lallana, Sturridge, Firmino (Origi, 82)