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.