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.
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.
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.