Southampton on top as Redmond goal sinks toothless Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp bemoans lacklustre performance from his side as Saints gain the upper hand in semi-final first leg
Southampton 1 Liverpool 0
England's most bloodless cup competition produced another suitably underwhelming semi-final as Southampton secured a slender advantage over Liverpool ahead of the second leg at Anfield later this month. It came 24-hours after Manchester United saw off Hull 2-0 in a similarly anaemic encounter.
Tickets at St Mary's were still on sale right up to kick-off and the fans in attendance hardly sounded like they were in the throes of cup fever. The two teams, however, did appear to be under the weather in a match that rarely sparked into life.
The one moment that brought the Saints supporters to life came on 20 minutes when Nathan Redmond got on the end of Jay Rodriguez's pass to bury the ball past Loris Karius. That was to be the only time Southampton got the better of the Liverpool goalkeeper, by far and away the visitors' best player, on a night when the Reds didn't look much like a team challenging for the Premier League title.
Perhaps they had one eye on Sunday's crucial trip to Old Trafford or perhaps, like the rest of the country, the Merseyside team just have difficulty rousing themselves for the EFL Cup.
Nonetheless, despite the result, and despite the fact the Saints are only the third team to beat Liverpool this season, manager Claude Puel knew his side should have scored more. "It a great performance against this team but we are a little disappointed with the result considering the chances we had," he reflected. "We played good football with many chances. In the end we were unlucky and unhappy with the result because we know away at Liverpool will be very difficult."
Had it not been for a couple of outstanding saves from Karius, Jurgen Klopp would have been looking at a far graver scoreline and he admitted he couldn't account for his side's shoddy performance. "I've tried [to explain it] in three or four interviews but I cannot," admitted the Liverpool manager. "The start was good. If we would have done this for 90 minutes, then it would have been very difficult for Southampton. But after we conceded, the game changed.
"I'm actually not used to a reaction like this from my boys but they have to accept that tonight was not good. We did not have a lot of chances – if we had some [at all]. The performance, of course, doesn’t feel too good."
The only positive for the German was the scoreline, a comfort ahead of the second leg on 25 January. "You have two disappointed managers after the game," said Klopp. "One, because he lost and the performance wasn't good, and the other because he only won 1-0 and has to go to Anfield afterwards.”
Can Daniel Sturridge deliver in Liverpool's hour of need?
Liverpool face Southampton in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi final at St Mary's this evening, with all eyes on Daniel Sturridge, who is facing the "defining moments" of his Anfield career, says Chris Bascombe in the Daily Telegraph.
The Reds have "six fixtures of increasing importance across three competitions" over the next three weeks, starting with the trip to Southampton and culminating in the Premier League visit of Chelsea at the end of January, says Bascombe. With Sadio Mane absent at the Africa Cup of Nations the stage is set for Sturridge.
The striker announced himself to Jurgen Klopp with two goals at the same venue in the same competition last season. Although the manager was impressed by the player's performance, he has also been left bewildered by his inability to stay fit.
Sturridge's continued absences mean he "has become the back-up plan" for Liverpool, says Bascombe. The striker has been left on the bench this season while Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have established themselves as "one of the most exciting attacking trios in the Premier League".
Sturridge remains a fine striker and it is "inescapable" that "Liverpool are a better force with Sturridge but perfectly capable of functioning to a tremendous level without him", says Jack Bezants of Mail Online
"Sturridge has netted 59 goals for Liverpool in 107 appearances, a sensational record. But for some, the fact that it spans across four years means it is difficult to erase a sense of 'what if?' around him," he adds.
After missing most of Brendan Rodgers's last full season in charge, there were hopes that Sturridge would come good for Klopp. But his goals against Southampton last season "proved less a platform than a plateau", says Paul Joyce of The Times. The player has only made 35 appearances since then, and it could be that he and his manager have an eye on pastures new.
"The next five months can be mutually beneficial nonetheless and Klopp understands the dressing-room view that if Liverpool are to achieve anything this term then Sturridge will be crucial," he says. "What was telling, however, was Klopp's decision not to massage Sturridge's ego before the first leg with Claude Puel's side, but instead to reintroduce the debate over the player's fitness.
"Perhaps seeing Philippe Coutinho bust a gut to recover from ankle ligament damage while Sturridge was out for a month with a minor calf injury prejudices Klopp's view."