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Lackluster Liverpool stuttering ahead of Man United clash

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SOUTHAMPTON — Somehow Liverpool is still in with a chance of making the EFL Cup final but their shaky form continues.

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Liverpool lost 1-0 at Southampton in the EFL Cup semifinal first leg on Wednesday but the Premier League title contenders should’ve lost by two or three to out-of-form Saints.

Jurgen Klopp‘s side, who have now drawn with PL relegation strugglers Sunderland, then League Two side Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup and lost to Southampton in their last three games, never got going at a chilly St Mary’s on the south coast of England and that’s not good news ahead of their massive Premier League clash against Manchester United on Sunday.

Liverpool dominated possession but apart from a first half chance for Roberto Firmino they hardly threatened Southampton’s defense.

Speaking after the game Klopp admitted he was an off day for his side.

“After we conceded one goal obviously the game changed. Even if I try to explain it, it is not that easy. I am actually not used to a reaction like this from my boys. We have to accept tonight was not good,” Klopp said. “We were dominant second half and they had one or two counter attacks, that’s how it is. It is not a big problem. We have to defend them with passion. We had not a lot of chances. If we had some, Roberto Firmino first half, one or two other moments. We had a lot of moments in around the box where we could have had a chance but we didn’t make it.”

Was the fact that Liverpool escaped Southampton with a 1-0 defeat a plus for Klopp?

“The only one, actually,” Klopp said. “It is the third best result if you don’t win. Drawing or losing 1-0 is the best result, I don’t like it too much. This team always shows a reaction. We have to show a reaction in this cup against Southampton but it would be cool if we could already show a reaction at the weekend because we probably need a better performance to get something at Old Trafford.”

Ahead of the derby at United, Liverpool looked uncharacteristically disjointed in attack with Sadio Mane away at the African Cup of Nations, Daniel Sturridge ineffective and the duo of Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino patrolling the same spaces and shut down. It was an off day in attack for a Liverpool side who are the highest scorers in the Premier League but have now failed to score at St Mary’s on their last two visits.

Luckily for Liverpool, Southampton’s attack had yet another off day too as they continue to miss the presence of leading goalscorer Charlie Austin who is out through injury.

Saints goalscorer Nathan Redmond summed up just how wasteful he Saints were.

“I should have had four goals today. I didn’t realize how much time I had but I will learn from those mistakes. At least we won and we can take a lead to Anfield.”

He was right.

Redmond was twice denied by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, who was their best player, and he somehow clipped the bar when clean though on the break as Cedric and the impressive Virgil Van Dijk also went close for Saints.

Aside from Karius’ display the fact that Liverpool is  just a goal down going into the second leg at Anfield in two weeks time is the major plus for Klopp.

He admitted that Karius “kept them in the game” and the German coach believes his side still have a great chance of advancing to the final where they will likely face old foes Manchester United who beat Hull City 2-0 in their semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

Klopp knows his side got away from St Mary’s with an extremely favorable 1-0 defeat on Wednesday. It’s not often an almost full-strength Liverpool side can say that.

“The performance doesn’t feel too good, that’s how it is. But for the final everything is open, still,” Klopp said. “At the moment, there are two disappointed managers after the game. One because he lost and the performance wasn’t good. One because he only won 1-0 and has to go to Anfield for the second leg afterwards. We will strike back, we will be a different team. Everything will be different at Anfield.”

Game on. See you at Anfield on Jan. 25.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.