Southampton 1 Redmond 20'
Despite the narrow scoreline, Liverpool rode their luck in the EFL Cup against Southampton, and can thank their goalkeeper they're still in it with a chance to progress ahead of the return leg at Anfield.
Jürgen Klopp made eight changes and produced a strong side on Wednesday night, with Loris Karius returning between the sticks behind a backline of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and James Milner. Lucas Leiva sat in the single pivot, shuttled by Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum, while Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana supported Daniel Sturridge up top. Philippe Coutinho returned to the squad for the first time since his injury in November, while Joël Matip, Jordan Henderson missed the game through injury.
Nothing much happened in the first fifteen minutes, Southampton setting the pace with aggressive, physical pressing in their own half, denying the Liverpool attackers time on the ball to find their rhythm. Eighteen minutes in, the Reds had their first proper chance, as Lallana headed a Can chip back across goal, and Firmino hammered a volley at the top corner, though Fraser Forster was able to punch the ball over the bar.
Nathan Redmond gave the visitors a scare a minute later, when he arrived at the back post as they failed to deal with a cross, but Karius was on hand to stop him with a fine save. The Reds didn't heed the warning, however, and were down a goal soon after. This time, Klavan failed to get any purchase on his clearance outside his own box, letting Jay Rodriguez in behind, who cut the ball through Lovren's legs for Redmond to slot home.
The rest of the half passed without much incident, the Reds struggling to put together any sort of coherent attacking play as a result of their own ineptitude and the relentless work of the hosts. Two minutes from the whistle, Lallana, Lucas and Clyne were bypassed by a single Saints attacker, but while the cross found Redmond, Karius produced another quality save to deny Redmond.
The second half was more of the same, as the visitors never managed a proper chance, having been relegated to desperate attempts from well outside the box, while the Saints sat back and countered. Karius had another solid save, Cédric Soares hit the side netting when through on goal, and five minutes from time, Redmond again went close, chipping Karius but seeing his effort deflect off the crossbar before being cleared off the line by Lovren. There was no final push for the equalizer, much as there had been no initial push at any point in the match.
That was arguably the worst Liverpool performance of the season, as even the frustrating losses to Burnley and Bournemouth saw the Reds carve out some clear opportunities. This had none of that, the interplay of the front three nonexistent, the rhythm and penetration on offense completely absent. Southampton were tremendous in their defensive efforts, causing the opposition to turn over possession with frightening regularity, and on another day could've easily inflicted a humiliating loss on their adversaries.
Loris Karius is the only player to come out of the match with any credit, and he kept the Reds in the tie on several occasions, making key stops on great opportunities. Sturridge was completely absent for the entirety of the game, losing duels and taking tumbles while picking up only a single touch in the Southampton box. The defensive line was a mess, Lucas failed to cover the dangerous space in front of them, Wijnaldum was ineffective, and Can had his pocket picked on numerous instances. Coutinho looked the most likely to make anything happen after his introduction on the hour mark, but even he met a brick wall as soon as he entered the Saints area.
All is not lost, as the two sides will meet again at Anfield in two weeks, but Klopp's charges will need to pick themselves up and deliver an entirely different level of performance if they're to have any chance of turning the ties around. First up, though, is the clash with resurgent archrivals Manchester United on Sunday.