Liverpool’s worrying slump in form continued last night, as Jurgen Klopp’s side fell to a second home defeat in as many games, which saw opponents Southampton reach the Wembley final.
In his programme notes, Liverpool’s manager had called for his team to “punch back hard”, but the first half saw both teams tentatively test the waters, with neither side willing to throw bodies forward; Liverpool knew a Southampton goal would mean them needing two to take the tie to extra time, whilst Southampton simply came to hold onto their first-leg lead.
Jack Stephens – the teenage centre-back who stood in at the back in Virgil van Dijk’s absence – looked good for the most part, a poor back-pass that resulted in a corner aside, and was not tested sufficiently.
Philippe Coutinho, fresh from signing a new five-year deal worth £150,000-a-week, making him Liverpool’s highest-paid player, and Adam Lallana, back in his favoured midfield berth, looked the brightest attackers for the Reds, but Liverpool failed to create any chance that was really clear-cut.
Southampton tested Liverpool’s back-line on a few occasions on the break – Redmond and Tadic out wide looked to get at full-backs James Milner and young Trent Alexander-Arnold – and created one or two opportunities. Jay Rodriguez had a shot brilliantly stopped by Loris Karius, and Steven Davis fired miles over from a good position.
The second half saw wave after wave of attack from Liverpool, who seemed to find some confidence, and knew that a goal was needed to save the tie.
First, Emre Can shot from distance. Forster in the Southampton goal made an error, but just about recovered to scoop the ball clear, with millimetres to spare and most of Anfield thinking the ball had gone in. It felt like a goal was coming.
Less than five minutes after, Sturridge volleyed over from six yards after a cross from the right, and then did so again from a Henderson cross from the other side a few minutes after that.
Coutinho had a couple more efforts blocked or saved before being replaced by Divock Origi with twelve minutes to go. Still only one goal necessary to take the game to extra time, but with Liverpool becoming increasingly desperate, players piled forward, leaving them exposed at the back.
Southampton continued to sit deep as they done all game, frustrating Liverpool by slowing the game down at every opportunity, and launching the ball to Shane Long whenever possible.
Divock Origi could have had a penalty late on, but Southampton broke away and Long fired past Karius with most of Liverpool’s players still at the other end trying to score a breakthrough goal. The Southampton winner did not change the tie: a draw would have been good enough to see them through, and so it was worth the risk.
The Irishman did little when coming on, but will ultimately be remembered as the man who secured Southampton a Wembley date, and consigned Liverpool to another defeat.
Southampton march on to their first League Cup final since 1979, and over the two legs were value for it, despite having only 27% possession in the second game.
For Liverpool, the Wolves game on Saturday lunchtime has taken on increased importance. The FA Cup is now the only realistic chance for Liverpool to win a trophy this season; failure to go through against the Championship side and Liverpool’s season will have fizzled out faster than it ignited at the start.
For the first time, the pressure is on Klopp.