Liverpool crisis grows as Southampton head to Wembley
One win in seven for Liverpool as Saints stand firm at Anfield to secure a place in the EFL Cup final
Liverpool 0 Southampton 1 (Southampton win 2-0 on aggregate)
A late goal from Shane Long and an extraordinary recovery save from goalkeeper Fraser Forster confirmed Southampton's place in next month's EFL final and added to Jurgen Klopp's mounting problems at Liverpool.
The Reds manager has seen his side win just once in seven matches this year - and that was a nervy 1-0 victory against League Two minnows Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup third round replay. Losing ground in the Premier League title race and now denied the chance of a Wembley final, the Reds have lost their way in the new year and the pressure is starting to tell.
The smiling, jovial German of earlier in the season was not to be seen after the game as Klopp raged against the refereeing performance of Ben Atkinson, particularly his decisions not to award penalties for an apparent handball from Shane Long and a challenge from Jack Stephens on Divock Origi.
"The handball was obvious, 100 per cent obvious," fumed Klopp. "Maybe it's not interesting but it is really hard to accept week by week by week... I don't know about the Origi moment, but if it was a foul that makes it even harder to bear. We have a lot of these situations and nobody comes and says they are sorry. Two penalties and we are through and nobody says anything about our performance. But that explains the performance, we really stuck to our usual plan, and immediately we had bigger chances – we would normally take them, but we didn't and we are out and we have to accept it, the show must go on."
Klopp would be better advised examining his side's performance and discovering why it is that a team that won four league games on the bounce over the Christmas period now can't get a win for love nor money.
Fatigue may be a factor, so too the absence of Sadio Mane, playing for Senegal at the Africa Cup Of Nations, but with an FA Cup fourth round tie against Wolves on Saturday, followed by the visit of Premier League leaders Chelsea to Anfield on Tuesday, the Reds have little time to rediscover their 2016 form. Lose to the Blues next week and the gap will grow to 13 points, effectively ending Liverpool's hopes of winning their first Premier League title since 1990.
Worryingly for Klopp, Daniel Sturridge and Origi both looked out of sorts on Wednesday evening and it's that lack of cutting edge up front that is harming the Reds most, with just four goals in the last six matches. "We had seven good chances," reflected Klopp. "You have to score, and we didn't do, so we lost."
The closest they came to a goal was when Saints keeper Forster fumbled a shot from Emre Can, but the England goalie spun and somehow clawed the ball off the line. Elsewhere Sturridge spurned at least two gilt-edged chances, failing to even hit the target.
Southampton, who remarkably have reached Wembley without conceding a goal in the competition (the first club to achieve such a feat), now wait to see who wins tonight semi-final between Manchester United and Hull, and manager Claude Puel can't wait for 26 February. "Now we go to Wembley, not just to participate but to win this cup," he said. "I have been there once, just to watch France beat England."