Belfast Telegraph

Pathetic Liverpool lack real threat as Saints go marching on to Wembley

Liverpool 0 - Southampton 1 (Southampton win 2-0 on aggregate)

By Simon Hughes

A fabulous few days for Southampton. A dreadful few days for Liverpool. Following a resounding league victory over champions Leicester on Sunday, the Saints reached their first major cup final in 14 years last night with Shane Long scoring against the Reds in injury time and fans invading the pitch.

Following the misery of defeat in the league to bottom-placed Swansea on Saturday, Liverpool's January became that bit darker.

Unstoppable in September and October, the Reds now appear vulnerable. Southampton's progress to Wembley and the EFL Cup final was achieved with an organised defensive performance but not a heroic one.

The Saints' third clean sheet of the season against Liverpool came without much of a shake. That Maya Yoshida was their third choice centre-back until last week and that he was untroubled here said everything.

Liverpool have now not won any of their four most recent League Cup semi-finals at home. Considering Jurgen Klopp has repeatedly mentioned the impact a crowd can have, could this sequence reflect a greater mood?

Saints boss Claude Puel has not won plaudits for his team's style since arriving in England from Nice but he appreciates how to set up a defence. Surely it must have concerned him that because of Virgil van Dijk's absence, he was forced to call on his fourth choice centre-back Jack Stephens as a replacement.

It would be tempting to conclude that this was a bigger game for Southampton than it was for Liverpool, bearing in mind their last final was in the FA Cup and that experience ended in defeat in 2003; bearing in mind as well, the final before that was in the League Cup of 1979 when Brian Clough took his Nottingham Forest team out the night before, got many drunk and still won.

And yet it is easy to forget that Liverpool have won only one trophy in 11 years. With their hopes of an involvement in the Premier League title race seemingly draining, this was an even more important game for them. In bad form, though, the lack of confidence was evident as Southampton passed 200 minutes of football against Liverpool this season without conceding a goal without any threat being posed.

The visitors had the better chances of the first half and they were identical; Nathan Redmond slaloming past Trent Alexander-Arnold on both occasions, and then spinning beyond Joel Matip before passing to someone in a better position. Loris Karius saved brilliantly from Dusan Tadic's first opportunity then Steven Davis made a mess of the second.

In the second half, Fraser Forster nearly brought the tie level by fumbling Emre Can's stinging drive before recovering well.

Daniel Sturridge then found himself unmarked in the box twice but was not quite balanced enough to score. But Liverpool were hardly battering down the door. Southampton deserve their place at Wembley. It was guaranteed thanks to Shane Long.

Liverpool: Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Can (Origi 78), Henderson, Lallana, Firmino, Sturridge, Coutinho (Wijnaldum 87). Subs not used: Klavan, Moreno, Lucas, Mignolet, Woodburn.

Southampton: Forster, Cedric, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand, Ward-Prowse (Hojbjerg 59), Romeu, Davis, Redmond (Sims 81), Rodriguez (Long 46),Tadic. Subs not used: Clasie, Martina, McQueen, Lewis.

Goals: Long 90

Man of the match: Long

Match rating: 6/10

Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire)

Belfast Telegraph


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