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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.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

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.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.