Liverpool were outdone by a brilliant Southampton side as Puel’s side earned a 1-0 lead going into the second leg of the EFL Cup semi-finals.
Jurgen Klopp was looking to secure an advantageous result as he took his Liverpool side to the St. Mary’s to face Southampton in the first leg of the semi-finals of the EFL Cup. But, things didn’t quite pan out as many would have thought.
Liverpool were stretched by Southampton, who, in all fairness, should have had more than the slender 1-0 lead they take into the second leg of the fixture.
The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at some of the significant talking points to come out of the fixture.
Sadio the Mane man?
Liverpool have struggled in recent times, drawing against the likes of Sunderland and Plymouth. But on Wednesday, they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Southampton, failing to open their account over the stretch of 90 minutes.
Burnley 2-0 Liverpool
Liverpool 0-0 Plymouth
Southampton 1-0 Liverpool
We have failed to score in the three games Sadio Mane has missed..
— Kop Talk (@KopTalk28) January 11, 2017
The only telling difference was the absence of Sadio Mane, who is away at African Cup of Nations. And as rightly pointed out by the tweet above, Liverpool have struggled on the attacking front in the absence of the former Southampton man.
Perhaps the summer signing is more integral to the team than what has been observed. If that indeed is the case, the Kop will be hoping Mane comes back to Anfield as soon as possible for they risk losing all their momentum from the first half of the season.
Loris did Karius
Loris Karius arrived at Anfield in a small money move but with high hopes and hype surrounding the player. And while the player has flattered to deceive up until this moment, at St. Mary’s the German showed a glimpse of just why he is so highly-rated.
A word on Loris Karius: Southampton would be at Wembley now had it not been for his save from Nathan Redmond. Big moment in a solid display
— Dominic King (@DominicKing_DM) January 11, 2017
— Phil Coutinho (@LfcNo10) January 12, 2017
The 23-year-old single-handedly kept Liverpool in the game on the defensive side and Southampton would have been on their way to Wembley if not for him.
While one performance isn’t enough to alleviate the ghosts of his past mistakes, this display could go a long way in establishing himself in the Liverpool setup.
Southampton the perfect antidote to Liverpool’s vicious attack
Liverpool’s attack this season has been sumptuous to say the least. Klopp has made the Reds look menacing, entertaining, as well as prolific. The Reds have been unable to score only 4 times this season before this fixture, one of them coming against Plymouth, where Klopp fielded a lot of youngsters.
But at St. Mary’s, Liverpool came unstuck once again, a fifth time this season. Of the 5 shutouts, Southampton kept them at bay on 2 occasions, which surely isn’t a coincidence.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) January 12, 2017
Claude Puel deserves the plaudits for brilliant tactical setups to negate Liverpool’s attacking impetus, which saw Liverpool on the back foot at times. And the Saints had almost an identical back five in both the matches, with Jose Fonte being the exception.
Puel’s side have recorded 12 clean sheets this season, a statistic which not only shows the level of talent at Puel’s disposal but also the shrewd tactical awareness of the new boss. The Saints now know that another clean sheet would be enough for them to reach Wembley.
Red hot Nathan rising into prominence
Nathan Redmond first came on the radar of top Premier League clubs during his Birmingham days. He solidified his stature as a future star at Norwich. But it is at St. Mary’s that the 22-year-old is showing signs of becoming the next breakout English star.
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 11, 2017
On Wednesday, the player was in full flow as he terrorized the Liverpool defence and was perhaps unlucky to not have a hattrick on the day, with Southampton carving out so many clear chances.
Redmond has shown consistency at the highest stage for a top team like Southampton this season and if he continues it for a season or two, we may very well see him move to an even more illustrious club. Who knows, given the history of dealings between the two clubs, Liverpool might just be the club to snap him up.
A New Hope
Just like in the iconic Star Wars franchise, Southampton have Liverpool’s Wembley dream as their captive. And it is now down to the Jedi Coutinho, Adam Skywalker, R2 Firmino and others to rescue it.
And they have one last chance, at Anfield, thanks to Loris Karius. Whether they’ll be able to achieve it, only time will tell.