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Three things learned from Saints’ win at Liverpool

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LIVERPOOL — Southampton beat Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield on Wednesday to seal a memorable victory and their first appearance in the League Cup final since 1979.

Shane Long‘s late goal secured a 2-0 aggregate victory as Saints will now play either Manchester United or Hull City in the final next month at Wembley Stadium.

Here’s what we learned from a bitterly cold night at Anfield as Liverpool’s shocking January continued.


LACKLUSTER LIVERPOOL

You can’t say it hasn’t been coming.

Liverpool had failed to win any of their previous six games in January and they huffed and puffed without much penetration. With Philippe Coutinho still getting back to his best, Daniel Sturridge too static for much of the night and the duo of Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino forced further out wide to find space, the same issues which have stalled Liverpool in recent weeks cropped up.

It is rare that a Klopp side doesn’t look dynamic or pacey in the final third. This happened to them in the first leg at St Mary’s and it happened again at Anfield.

With flares and huge crowds in the streets around Anfield before kick off, this felt like one of the big European nights they’ve been accustomed to over the years. Unlike many other famous semifinals in the past, the team didn’t deliver.

Sturridge sent two acrobatic efforts over the bar and Coutinho went close but one Liverpool fan sat behind the shivering press box summed it up best: “This is our night of frustration, isn’t it?”

Now that dreams of a potential Wembley final against Manchester United are over, Liverpool only have the FA Cup and a battle for the top four to worry about. If their poor form continue and an under-strength side falls to second-tier Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend and then loses to PL-leading Chelsea next Wednesday, the lingering title hopes will be dashed and Klopp will be under plenty of pressure to finish in the top four.


SAINTS COME OF AGE

Just like the first leg, Saints sat back and let Liverpool have the ball.  They were then lethal on the counter as Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond linked up superbly down the left to give young right back Trent Alexander-Arnold (only drafted into the team due to Nathaniel Clyne‘s injury) a horrid night, especially in the first half.

Southampton weathered a brutal storm late in the second half as Liverpool poured forward in search of the single goal which would take the game to extra time. But Saints, who crashed out of the UEFA Europa League in brutal circumstances in the group stage finale and have been inconsistent in the PL all season, but they held on and grabbed the result they needed.

Claude Puel‘s nickname as a player was “the dog” for his performances for Monaco. His team dug in and displayed that grit to go on the road and grind out the resulted they needed.

Southampton’s feat of reaching their first major cup final since 2003 and only their second-ever final in this competition was made more impressive due to the fact that they had two unfancied center backs who stood out. Saints lost star center back Virgil Van Dijk through injury in the win against Leicester on Sunday and Jose Fonte finally left for West Ham last week. Youngster Jack Stephens stepped up big time as the 22-year-old, like many of his Southampton teammates, came of age at the perfect moment.

For the first time since they won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as third-tier club in 2010, Saints are heading back to Wembley. Reaching this final underlines an incredible seven-year journey from the depths of the lower leagues to a major final and becoming a Premier League mainstay.

It was made even sweeter for Saints and their fans given the fact that Liverpool have paid $115 million to take five of their star players over the past few years.


FATIGUE TELLING

Deep into the second half, one Liverpool fan stood up and shouted: “Come on, it’s a semifinal!”

Liverpool knew it but they couldn’t kick on. They were moved from side to side by a solid Southampton defense but never looked like having the energy to get in-behind them.

Just like against Swansea City, Liverpool had no life left in them in the dying stages.

Klopp’s methods may be taking its toll at the same stage it did last season and it will be intriguing to see how Liverpool recover from this hammer blow.

The return of Sadio Mane will help but that won’t be for a couple of weeks. Klopp’s men badly need a boost ahead of the massive clash against Chelsea on Tuesday at Anfield. If they lose a third-straight game at home, Liverpool’s title hopes are over.

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

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CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).

Ugly scene forces Ivory Coast-Senegal match to be abandoned

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Monday’s international friendly between Ivory Coast and Senegal turned out to be anything but that when the match was interrupted towards the tail end.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The fixture was abandoned with two minutes remaining in regulation after pitch invaders disrupted the the match by getting past security guards and began chasing after players from both sides.

The score was level at 1-1 in the 88th minute when the disruptions occurred, causing the referee to halt play at the Stade Sebastien Charlety in Paris.

One of the intruders even managed to tackle Senegalese defender Lamine Gassama (as shown in the picture to the right).

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead minutes into the second stanza after he converted from the penalty spot, while Cyriac Gohi Bi leveled the score at one apiece just minutes later.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbal abusing official

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Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

UPDATED: Fox Sports Argentina is reporting that Messi will receive a two to four match suspension and will be effective for tomorrow’s match against Bolivia.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.

Arena speaks about USMNT turnaround, says “no secret formulas”

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It’s only been one competitive match since Bruce Arena regained control of the U.S. Men’s National Team and there’s already been a noticeable difference in form.

[ MORE: Three keys for the USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

The former LA Galaxy manager wouldn’t have you believe that though following Friday night’s convincing 6-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

“It’s nothing I can write a book on,” Arena said about his team’s turnaround in form against Honduras. “You have a sense of your group, and you go about doing your business. There’s no secret formulas to this stuff. Work together, take ownership in what you’re doing, treat them like responsible professional athletes, and you get on with your business.

He added, “They want to be successful. They want to play in a World Cup. Is that a recipe for success? I don’t know. I’m sure Honduras wants to play in a World Cup too.”

Arena, who took over for Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S.’ collapse during the first two matches of the Hexagonal, is unbeaten in his first three games in charge since getting his job back with the Stars and Stripes.

Although there has been a considerable turnaround in the way the USMNT has performed in the first three matches of 2017, Arena wouldn’t stoop to comparing his style to that of Klinsmann.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said. “I’m not taking a survey [of the players]. I know it’s different. We lose tomorrow, there will be articles written that, ‘This a—— is letting these guys run loose.'”

“I have spent no time on the past. There’s nothing I can do about it. I kind of have a sense about things, but there’s no point in me spending time investigating what went on in the past. The idea was to get it going the right way from the start.”

Arena’s next test with the U.S. will be on Tuesday when the Yanks travel to Panama City to take on Panama.