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Three things we learned: Southampton’s win vs. Liverpool

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints are one step closer to Wembley Stadium.

MORE: Lackluster Liverpool struggling

They beat Liverpool 1-0 at St Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal as they take a lead with them to Anfield for the second leg in two weeks time.

Here’s what we learned from a chilly night at St Mary’s.


SAINTS STAND UP

After three-straight defeats in the Premier League it would’ve been easy for Saints’ players to sulk ahead of this semifinal, their first in the League Cup since 1987. They didn’t.

They came out fighting and without captain Jose Fonte, who has put in a transfer request and is unavailable for selection throughout the January transfer window, they were lacking their leader.

The rest of the squad stood up and were counted in front of a sold-out St Mary’s.

In midfield Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie set the tone, snapping in to tackles and disrupting Liverpool’s groove with brilliant displays. In defense Virgil Van Dijk has probably just allowed Daniel Sturridge to jump out of his back pocket and Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana were both too narrow and clogged up the space behind Sturridge. More on that later.

Saints did a great job to not only shut down Liverpool but when they won the ball back they kept it as Romeu and Clasie took the extra touch and second to steady themselves. Saints didn’t do that in their 0-0 draw against Liverpool at home in November as they somehow held on for a point. They looked more composed and confident this time out and if it wasn’t for a combination of Karius and slack finishing on the break it could’ve been even better for Southampton as Jay Rodriguez led the line confidently.

The fact Southampton’s fans will be upset they only beat Liverpool 1-0 says it all. The slump has been stopped and this big semifinal win against a team contending for the PL title will give Claude Puel‘s men confidence they can go to Anfield and get a draw or win they need to make their first major final since 2003. Saints’ players dug deep and put in a performance Puel would be proud of.


KARIUS PROVES HIS WORTH

Loris Karius may have kept his team in this tie.

In the first half the German goalkeeper made two fine stops from Redmond, early in the half and then just before half time, as two cutbacks evaded everyone and found Saints’ winger at the back post but he was twice denied.

Karius, 23, has had plenty of critics in his first season in England and has lost his place as first-choice to Simon Mignolet after some shaky displays and mistakes in the Premier League against Bournemouth and West Ham.

This performance may not win him back his place as Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper but it will go a long way to reminding Klopp just how talented he is. One slip up by Mignolet and Karius has to be straight back in.


MANE MISSED; ONE EYE ON UNITED

Liverpool badly missed former Southampton attacker Sadio Mane on Wednesday.

Mane, 24, is at the African Cup of Nations in Gabon with Senegal and his raw pace would have made a massive difference against his former club.

Liverpool looked stagnant in attack with Lallana and Firmino dropping deeper and deeper to get the ball but often stopped by Romeu and Clasie and there weren’t enough runs in-behind to stretch Southampton’s defense. Sturridge cut a frustrated figure up top on his own as he got his big chance to start and show his best ahead of the derby against Manchester United on Sunday.

This touch map sums up just how ineffective Sturridge was and it is unlikely he will lead the line against the Red Devils.

With a massive Premier League clash at United coming up, Sturridge is not on form and Liverpool may look to start Coutinho behind Firmino as they look to reignite their fluid attacking unit.

Did Klopp’s side have one eye on a game which could go a long way to not only deciding their title aspirations but also their top four hopes? They played like it.

Ligue 1: Level on games played, Monaco go 3 points ahead of PSG

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PARIS (AP) Monaco warmed up for its Champions League semifinal against Juventus with a 3-1 win over Toulouse to move three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the French league on Saturday.

Teenage striker Kylian Mbappe, the new wonder of French football, scored his 14th league goal this season.

Kamil Glik and Thomas Lemar also got on the scoresheet for the hosts.

Mbappe has been unstoppable in recent months, scoring 22 goals in his last 20 starts in all competitions.

Having turned 18 just four months ago, Mbappe has scored 24 goals in 38 games in his first full professional season to become one of the most sought-after players across Europe.

Both Monaco and PSG, which travels to third-placed Nice on Sunday, have four league matches left to play.

After rotating his team in a 5-0 loss to PSG in the French Cup to save his best players for Wednesday’s Champions League clash, Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim switched back to his usual starting lineup. His players made a slow start but ended up scoring three goals – their average this season.

Toulouse, which upset Monaco 3-1 in the corresponding fixture last October, had the first chance in the 10th minute when the unmarked Andy Delort sent a header inches wide at the far post from a free kick.

Monaco gradually worked its way into the game and took a firm grip near the half-hour. Following a one-two with Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva dribbled past a defender and forced `keeper Alban Lafont to make a good save to his left.

The youngest player in French league history to reach 10 goals in a season, Mbappe was then perfectly set up by Nabil Dirar’s long ball down the left flank but saw his effort deflected by a last-minute tackle from Toulouse skipper Issa Diop.

Struggling to break a well-organized defense, Monaco kept peppering the box with teasing crosses but lacked a cutting edge.

Monaco found itself trailing against the run of the play just after the interval following a blunder from Jemerson. The Brazilian defender fluffed the ball in front of goal, allowing Ola Toivonen to beat Danijel Subasic with a clean finish.

The goal spurred Monaco on even more and Glik put the teams level with a beautiful header into the top right corner from Joao Moutinho’s cross.

Mbappe made it 2-1 in the 64th minute after Bernardo Silva set him up on the right side of the area, rifling a shot into the net from a tight angle.

Lemar completed the win in the 75th minute from Dirar’s clinical cross.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET