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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.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.