Southampton 1 Long 90+1'
2017 continues to be the absolute worst as Liverpool fail to win for the sixth time in seven matches so far this year.
With Nathaniel Clyne ruled out late with his abdominal injury, Jürgen Klopp was forced to give Trent Alexander-Arnold his sixth start of the season, while recalling Joël Matip to partner Dejan Lovren in central defence. Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana made up the midfield three, while Daniel Sturridge was given a start at striker, flanked by Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho.
The match started predictably, with Southampton granting Liverpool possession, while sitting back and looking to counter, as the hosts were unable to muster anything other than effort from outside the box. Midway through the half, a willing Alexander-Arnold nearly picked out Lallana at the back post, but Cédric Soares did well to intercept the youngster's cross. The Saints looked typically comfortable with the flow of the game, while Liverpool were characteristically incapable of creating penetration.
The visitors should've scored twice before the break, on two near-identical counter attacks. A ball played past an overly offensive Alexander-Arnold allowed Nathan Redmond to run at the Reds defense, and the winger made use of his pace and the defenders' reluctance to tackle in their own box to pick out a team-mate. Dusan Tadic was given the first chance, and his finish from 10 yards was expertly saved by an alert Loris Karius, while Steven Davis blasted his equivalent chance miles over only minutes later.
The second half began in similar fashion, with Karius again coming off his line to prevent a cross from reaching Redmond at the far post. Some nifty interplay in the Saints box saw the hosts carve out their first proper chance, but when presented with the ball at the byline, Lallana took too long to cross it and had his effort blocked for a corner. Minutes later, the Reds nearly had their goal, as Can blasted a cannon at goal from 20-odd yards. The shot was straight at Fraser Forster, but he was unable to hold onto the ball and spilled it towards his own goal. A mad leap to the goal-line and a Hawkeye review later, the score was still 0-0.
Fifteen minutes into the half, Liverpool should've scored. A high ball was headed back across the box, and Sturridge found himself with time and space six yards out. His worryingly consistent lack of sharpness showed again though, and he snatched at his scissor kick, sending the ball over the bar. Three minutes later, Henderson found Sturridge eight yards out with a left-footed cross, but the striker's first-time chip was too high. Coutinho was the next to fluff his lines, as his compatriot Firmino picked him out with a terrific cross, but the Brazilian was unable to get his shot on target.
The Reds maintained fruitless possession for another fifteen-minute spell, Coutinho once going agonizingly close from 18 yards, before Divock Origi was brought on for the ineffectual Can. A Firmino overhead kick striking substitute Shane Long on the shoulder prompted shouts for a penalty, but it was the final minute of regulation that would decide the tie. Origi latched onto a loose ball in the box and was cut down by Jack Stephens, but Martin Atkinson wrongly pointed to the corner flag. Sixty seconds later, the Saints had the ball in the net, courtesy of a Shane Long strike after an effective counter-attack.
On balance of play over two legs, there can be little doubt that Southampton were deserved winner, as they should've comfortably won the first match by three or more. To have the tie come down to a botched refereeing decision in the final minute of the second frame stings, however, and will have fans and players feel hard done by.
There's no hiding that the Reds were lackluster in both the home and away fixtures, however, with few players standing out in a positive manner. Loris Karius kept his side in the tie for much longer than could've been expected, but did not receive much help from his defence, who were awfully susceptible to counters in both legs. Emre Can lacks the finesse and precision to maneuver a crowded opposition box, and would likely benefit from playing deeper with less creative responsibility. Daniel Sturridge is on a slide, and has been struggling to recover his fine form from the first two seasons of his Liverpool career for the better part of three years now. Coutinho and Firmino remained the flickering lights of creative hope throughout the match, but the lack of attacking rhythm and penetration when facing a packed box is palpable at this point, and Klopp needs to find a solution before his team is overtaken by their rivals in the league.
He'll hope that solution reveals itself in the FA Cup tie against Wolverhampton on Saturday, in a match that is likely to see another youthful Liverpool side given a chance to advance the team to the next round.