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Southampton 3 Liverpool 2: Stunned at St. Mary's

Liverpool are unable to build on their Europa League success, and instead find themselves cast as expendable extras in a late, late horror movie at St. Mary's.

Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Southampton 3 Mané 64', Pelle 83', Mané 86'
Liverpool 2 Coutinho 18', Sturridge 22'

For Liverpool and their supporters, this was a movie that started out as a lighthearted comedic romp (There's Something About St. Mary's) but quickly became a for-mature-audiences-only gorefest (I Know What You Did Last U21 Match) following a slight casting change during the interval.

Southampton entered their match against Liverpool on the back of some uneven league form. The Saints succumbed against Chelsea and Bournemouth before sharing points with Sunderland and, more encouragingly, overcoming their upstairs neighbors in the league table Stoke City. The home side did have a few players demonstrating encouraging upticks in form (including Graziano Pelle, scorer of a brace against Sunderland) as well as some key names in Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mané becoming available due to suspensions either having been served or overturned.

For their part, Liverpool were missing a number of key players with Roberto Firmino, Alberto Moreno and Jordan Henderson out due to injury, while James Milner served his suspension and no doubt enjoyed a nice cup of tea or two on the sidelines.  Injuries aside, the visitors came in riding high, having dispatched Manchester United from Europe and looking for a fourth consecutive win in the league to preserve their slim hopes of a final four finish.

And so it was that Liverpool started well against their own upstairs neighbors in the league table.  Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge looked lively in the early spell, and Joe Allen showed that he was a more than capable deputy for Jordan Henderson.  The home side, to their credit, weathered the initial probing well, and sensed opportunities down Liverpool's flanks, which they looked to exploit whenever possible.

Liverpool were just about in control without approaching anything near dominance, and there controversy was quick to appear when Shane Long forced a desperate rearguard action from Dejan Lovren.  The Southampton forward looked to have gone down after Lovren made contact with his arm.  No whistle and no penalty, and though Long was clearly looking for the foul, the incident was firmly in the "seen 'em given" category.

The visitors were able to build on this bit of luck just after the first quarter of an hour.  Once again, Philippe Coutinho fashioned a goalscoring opportunity seemingly from a position of little threat, and threaded the needle from distance to give Liverpool an early lead.  Five minutes later, Sturridge was called to stage to perform his own brand of wizardry, finishing an Origi-led counterattack by placing the ball perfectly past two defenders and beyond Fraser Forster.

For Southampton, conceding two this early could have conjured unhappy reminders of their six goal League Cup calamity on this very ground. That result was almost certainly on the minds of certain sections of the crowd, as St. Mary's fell into an uncomfortable silence.  Ronald Koeman's team, however, refused to back down, sensing that Liverpool's pressing game was a half-step late on the day and finding room and success down their right.

A script for the remainder of the half had emerged, with the Saints able to look threatening without actually doing so, and Liverpool content to test their hosts on the break.  Allen was called upon to direct the action, which he did comfortably, and Origi was asked to spearhead.  The advantage could have been pushed to three goals when Allen was able to lash home through traffic, but the goal was disallowed after Sakho was adjudged to have been interfering.

The second half looked to follow the same script as the first, but the introduction of a few new faces quickly changed the complexion of the contest. Liverpool's control of the midfield had already been tenuous at best, and Wanyama's introduction at halftime appeared to tip the scales decidedly in Southampton's favor.  Perpetual Liverpool tormentor Mané also resurfaced, and looked ready to resume his heroics against Jürgen Klopp's side.

Almost immediately, Martin Škrtel, who had just come on for Dejan Lovren, was deemed to have fouled Pelle in the box, and only Simon Mignolet's heroic save stopped the Saints from narrowing the advantage.  The omens, however, were there for all to see, clear as a swarm of locusts, or a pale evil-looking child, or black goo oozing from a kitchen sink, or Christian Benteke's number being flashed by the fourth official (this last one actually happened).  Southampton resumed normal service, testing Liverpool's reconfigured defence and peppering Mignolet with crosses.

By the time Mané scored his first in the sixty-fourth minute, it looked all but certain that Liverpool would concede more, such was the state of disarray at the back.  One sensed that whether or not any points were seized from this encounter would turn on Liverpool's ability to catch Southampton on the break.  And there were indeed a number of chances - the most notable one falling to Benteke - but Liverpool were unable to offer Forster any real test.

The back line was reeling, and almost inevitably, Pelle and Mané (again) scored in quick succession, putting the hosts very much in the driver's seat, with Liverpool showing no fluidity in attack and constantly chasing their counterparts in midfield.  Sheyi Ojo made a late appearance in a last roll of the dice from Klopp, but despite the promise Ojo has shown, his introduction was a reminder of how vulnerable Liverpool's depth chart has been whenever injuries have eroded the stability of the first choice eleven.

This will not have been the first time in recent history that Liverpool have snatched defeat or disappointing stalemate from the jaws of victory, but at this late stage, every result takes on an added significance.  The  consequence of this particular loss may be the first death knell for Liverpool's european hopes for next season, especially with a very large, very familiar roadblock having materialized in this year's adventures in the form of Borussia Dortmund.  On the bright side, Liverpool supporters can count on Klopp to have learned valuable lessons from this match when the retooling process begins in the summer.

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